As automotive journalists, we often get to experience what are called preproduction cars. These vehicles are usually close to what ends up going into mass production and are used to develop features and to give the press an early look at what a manufacturer has coming down the pike.
When the test period for a preproduction vehicle is done, manufacturers are supposed to scrap these cars so that they don't get into the hands of the public, since the government didn't technically approve them for sale. Volkswagen, it would seem, never heard about that last part, according to a report by the German newspaper Handelsblatt.
Volkswagen managed to sell 6,700 preproduction or test vehicles to consumers between 2006 and 2018, the bulk of which were in Germany. Volkswagen representatives confirmed this to Roadshow, also adding that the company recalled 252 such vehicles in the US back in May. These included 2012-2016 Eos, 2012 Passat, 2012-2016 CC, 2015 e-Golf, 2011-2015 Touareg, 2012-2015 Tiguan, and 2011-2016 Golf and 2011-2013 GTI models according to NHTSA.
The biggest problem with these preproduction vehicles is that Volkswagen didn't keep especially accurate records of the differences between the test cars and the production models. So, many of the preproduction cars could be totally fine for use, but because there is no documentation, the company must assume that all the cars are unsafe.
Where things start to get especially juicy is when you take into account the report from Der Spiegel, which states that there could be as many as 17,000 preproduction vehicles in public hands and that Volkswagen's internal auditors learned about this in 2016, then waited two years to report it to Germany's Federal Motor Transport Authority.