By Jhoo Dong-chan
About 1,500 imported Audi and Volkswagen vehicles have been sent back to Germany after being stranded at Pyeongtaek port for nearly eight months since the government banned their sales in July.
According to industry insiders, Sunday, three German carmaker models with 1.6-liter diesel-powered TDI engines -- the Audi A1, A3 and Volkswagen Golf 1.6 -- were sent back to the carmaker's headquarters in Germany on Friday. More than 20,000 Audi Volkswagen vehicles are still stranded at the port.
"It was the German headquarters' decision to take those vehicles back," an Audi Volkswagen Korea official said. "We are not aware of what headquarters plans to do with the remaining vehicles at the port."
In July, the Ministry of Environment found that Audi and Volkswagen installed a so-called "defeat device" in their vehicles to fabricate emissions test results while lying to Korean customers that its vehicles satisfied government environmental standards.
The ministry canceled sales approval for 80 Audi and Volkswagen models and fined the company 17.8 billion won ($16 million) last July. Volkswagen's sales nosedived by about 70 percent in July year-on-year.
Some said Audi Volkswagen Korea, the German automaker's local affiliate here, would sell those vehicles at about 40 percent discount.
"The decision was a good call," said an Audi A4 owner surnamed Koo, in his 30s.
"If they tried to sell those stranded vehicles here, it would be a humiliation for Korean customers."
Earlier this month, Audi Volkswagen Korea lodged an appeal against the Fair Trade Commission (FTC) for levying a 37 million won fine on the German carmaker's sales unit here over alleged false advertising of emissions.
Audi Volkswagen Korea submitted a petition to the Seoul High Court, demanding the withdrawal of the FTC's correction order along with the 37.3 million won fine.
Although the amount is not huge, it is the largest fine the FTC has imposed for false advertising. The corporate watchdog also asked prosecutors to investigate five officials of Audi Volkswagen Korea and its head office in Germany.
Volkswagen Group admitted it has sold 11 million cars worldwide equipped with a cheat device in diesel engines, exaggerating the performance in laboratory emissions tests.
The FTC also found Audi Volkswagen Korea had advertised that more than 120,000 cars with EA189 TDI diesel engines satisfied European emission standards, the Euro 5, between December 2007 and November 2015.
The government's Clean Air Conservation Act applies the same standards as the Euro 5, while the German carmaker claimed its vehicles automatically satisfied the standards of the Korean act.