Volkswagen of America will give prepaid credit cards to diesel vehicle owners caught up in the automaker's emissions-cheating scandal in an attempt to recapture some trust lost during the nearly two-month old affair.
The program, called the "Customer Goodwill Package," includes a $500 prepaid Visa card that can be used for any purchases, and a separate $500 "dealership card" that can be used for purchases at VW dealerships, such as credit toward a new car or accessories. The automaker is also offering free 24-hour roadside assistance for three years to affected vehicle owners.
"We are working tirelessly to develop an approved remedy for affected vehicles," Michael Horn, president and CEO of Volkswagen Group of America, said in a statement. "In the meantime, we are providing this Goodwill Package as a first step towards regaining our customers' trust."
VW has been under close scrutiny since the Environmental Protection Agency on Sept. 18 said the automaker installed so-called defeat devices on an estimated 482,000 vehicles in an alleged attempt to evade emissions testing. The goodwill package is available to owners of new and used 2.0L TDI vehicles included in the EPA notice.
Numerous class-action lawsuits targeting VW have been filed in recent weeks. One lawsuit filed in Maryland accuses VW of fraud, breach of express warranty, breach of implied warranty, breach of contract and unjust enrichment. Demands of that lawsuit include a free replacement program as well as "costs, restitution, and damages to be determined at trial."
Asked if there were any strings attached to the goodwill program -- such as giving up the right to sue -- a VW spokesman said no. "Volkswagen hopes that the Goodwill Package is a step toward restoring our customer's trust and act as a sign that we appreciate their patience as the brand works to find an approved remedy," he said in an email. "Affected customers eligible for the Goodwill Package are not required to sign a release of claims in order to receive the package."
The so-called defeat devices were also included on roughly 14,300 Audi A3 cars. Audi, which is owned by Volkswagen, is expected to launch a similar goodwill program later this week, according to an Audi spokesman.
To claim the goodwill package, customers must visit VWDieselInfo.com and use their VIN to determine if their vehicle is eligible. If approved, the package will be mailed within four weeks. Then, customers must activate the package by visiting their dealer and providing proof of ownership and a driver's license.
The prepaid credit card program follows other incremental moves made by VW aimed at hanging on to existing customers and soothing dealers. Programs have included offering a $2,000 loyalty bonus that existing VW owners can use toward new model purchases. VW has yet to run any broad-based advertising related to the issue. The automaker stopped all national TV ads from Sept. 30 to Oct. 13 and has been advertising sporadically since then, according to ad tracker iSpot. One ad airing Sunday plugged the Tiguan SUV and showed a family test-driving the vehicle through a Christmas Tree farm, according to iSpot.