Driving along I-25 between Pueblo and Colorado Springs, there sits a heap of Volkswagens next to the Pikes Peak International Raceway.
Doug Villers of Pueblo drives past this lot several times a week during his commute to Fountain. He has noticed hundreds of Golfs, Jettas, Passats and even Audis all neatly parked in rows for the last few years.
But he said the lot now looks a third empty.
“I was wondering what’s going on with the Volkswagens that have been parked down by the Pikes Peak Raceway,” he said. “I’ve noticed that several of them have been moved recently and I was wondering what happened to them and where they’re going?”
Villers submitted this question to CPR’s Colorado Wonders, a project where you ask the questions and CPR reporters find the answer.
The vehicles are temporarily being stored in the lot adjacent to the raceway after Volkswagen was caught cheating on its emissions tests in 2015. As part of a settlement between Volkswagen and the federal government, VW must get the cars off the road so they’re temporarily being parked here until they’re either repaired and sold or scrapped.
The lot in southern Colorado is just one of 37 around the country, according to a report from Reuters. In Detroit, the VWs are parked at the former Lions’ Pontiac Silverdome football stadium. And in California, they’re at the decommissioned Norton Air Force Base.
The 200-acre parking lot in Colorado where the cars are kept is owned by Pikes Peak International Raceway. The land was used for overflow parking when the race track had events.
In January 2017, the raceway was granted a “Temporary Use” permit by El Paso County, allowing the track to store the VWs in the lot for a time. But the permit expires at the end of the month, said Nina Ruiz, a planner with El Paso County.
“We don't anticipate renewing that temporary use. If they wish to continue the use in the future, they would need to submit for a ‘Variance of Use’ if they are going to continue that in El Paso County. And that would require going through a public hearing process,” Ruiz said.
PPIR’s owner, Bob Boileau, did not respond for comment. The raceway’s manager, Jared Thompson, also declined to comment, but said the race track does lease the lot out.
A spokesman for the Volkswagen Group of America said the company was not commenting beyond a statement describing why the vehicles are parked at the race track.
Ruiz said she reached out to PPIR to let them know their permit was expiring soon. She did not hear back. If the raceway wanted to continue storing the VWs, the new application process would take at least four months to complete and PPIR may risk being in violation with El Paso County.
Volkswagen paid more than $8 billion to buy back more than 360,000 2.0- and 3.0-liter diesel vehicles.
As part of the settlement, the company fulfilled its requirement in May 2018 to fix or take off the road 85 percent of its 2.0-liter vehicles by June 2019. VW must also do the same for its 3.0-liter cars or it could be fined. They have until November 2019 and have already fulfilled about 82 percent of the requirement, according to a September report.