The German Handelsblatt is reporting that Volkswagen sold some 6,700 test vehicles in Europe and the U.S, and the report was confirmed by a VW spokesperson. The pre-production vehicles were made to "test and showcase" new models before official series production, and they should have been scrapped as they were not officially authorized to be on the road. But as it turns out, they were sold as used cars instead. Some 4,000 of these cars were sold in Germany, from 2006 to 2018, meaning the practice went on until recently. Handelsblatt cites an industry representative as saying, "It's a gigantic mistake."
Der Spiegel reported on Friday that current Volkswagen Group CEO Herbert Diess was made aware of the practice in mid-2016, but it took this long to stop. The cars have now been recalled, with VW citing safety concerns, and reports say that while some of the vehicles are hardly different from the final mass-produced models, some of them can differ from series production cars quite clearly, making it more difficult to maintain them in the long run. And reportedly there wasn't clear documentation regarding every particular car's variance from series production, hindering possible compliance even further.
Der Spiegel also says that as many as 17,000 Volkswagen test cars were sold to customers, but VW only confirmed 6,700, as that amount was recalled. The matter didn't extend to other VW brands like Audi, just Volkswagen. German authorities are now deciding how to handle the issue, and whether the carmaker will be fined some thousands of euros per affected car.