Volkswagen, while still reeling from the shocking Dieselgate scandal that drew billions in fines and lawsuits, has illegally sold thousands of pre-production test vehicles to unsuspecting buyers in Europe and North America since 2006. According to Der Spiegel, the Wolfsburg-based automaker were secretly selling off these cars (confirmed by a VW spokesman), although other brands in the family weren’t affected.

The vehicles, which were specifically made to showcase new models prior to being manufactured for proper large-scale series production, should have officially been scrapped. Instead, Volkswagen sold them as new or second-hand cars. The bigger problem is that the motor transport authorities never gave the green light for these test models to be sold.

The Drive states that there is a process for doing this legally – VW would have to document exactly how these test cars differed from the final production version and inform both industry regulators and its own dealers about their true provenance. Of course, this was never done.

That’s not all. German publication Handelsblatt reportedly saw internal documents suggesting the real number of cars with “unclear construction status” could be as high as 17,000 units, nearly tripling the 6,700 confirmed cases. In a follow-up report, Der Spiegel also confirmed a much higher number.

CEO Herbert Diess (pictured above) allegedly knew about the situation back in 2016, yet the case remained undisclosed for two years until the company decided to come clean to Germany’s motor transport authority earlier in September. The real risk here, according to The Drive, is that Volkswagen appears to have no documentation on what exactly is wrong with these cars.

A company spokesman told Handelsblatt that some of the models just need a software update to become compliant with the production version, while others are so riddled with differences and flaws that they should be scrapped immediately. Volkswagen says it is not aware of any crashes, injuries, or deaths related to the test cars, and it “deeply regret[s]” the deceit. A recall in Europe has been announced in what’s essentially another buyback plan to take these cars off the road.

German authorities are currently examining whether or not to impose more heavy fines on Volkswagen. Earlier in June, the company was fined one billion euros (RM4.74 billion) for organisational deficiencies that ultimately led to the emissions cheating scandal. It is said the automaker could face a fresh round of lawsuits from aggrieved customers and dealers. Just how deep does the rabbit hole go?