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These Automakers May Benefit from Volkswagen’s Pollution Scandal

Feds Open Criminal Probe Into Volkswagen’s Emissions Cheating 1:53

It's still too early to predict all the fallout from the unfolding emissions scandal at Volkswagen, but some industry watchers point to a few possible beneficiaries from the German automaker's problems.

Volkswagen has been accused of putting software into diesel vehicles that's designed to fake the results of emissions tests. According to James Albertine of Stifel Nicolaus, Japan's Subaru has been a net beneficiary at Volkswagen's expense in the past, and could be again.

"Subaru's overall market appeared to inflect positively in the same year where VW's market share appeared to inflect negatively," said Albertine. "We're not drawing a causation or correlation relationship — it's just interesting that in 2012, Subaru's share went up 30-40 basis points and Volkswagen's went down 30-40 basis points."

Albertine said that Volkswagen was already on a downward trajectory due to an aging product line, and that competitors like Subaru are bringing fresh vehicles to the market at overlapping prices.

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David Whiston, an equity strategist at Morningstar, said more eco-conscious consumers would first look at a hybrid vehicle, such as the Toyota Prius, while performance and power enthusiasts would be more likely to consider a vehicle from an automaker like Tesla.

However, Whiston added, "most volume is still in the plain old combustion (engine) side. That's because those vehicles are way more fuel efficient than they were even a few years ago."

While it still may be too early to tell if Volkswagen loyalists will defect from the brand, one Kelley Blue Book analyst said he thinks used VW vehicle prices will take a hit.

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"It's really unknown, but I think there'll be an extended period of reduced value for (used Volkswagen vehicles)," said Karl Brauer, a senior analyst at Kelley Blue Book. "The resolution will probably not leave as big of an impression and won't counteract the initial impression that (consumers) are getting with these diesel cars."

Not only do Volkswagen's emissions violations have financial implications for consumers, but environmental implications as well, which could discourage future buyers.

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"The nature of this problem goes to the heart of what these cars were supposed to be good at," Brauer said. "This will damage perception of the car for the people who would normally buy them."

Albertine agreed that this scandal is a public relations crisis for the United States market but said that it would only end in slightly lower diesel penetration.

"Do we really think consumers are going to have such a strong opinion about a corporate leader lying?" he said. "At the end of the day, consumers make purchase decisions based on monthly payments and right now there are few substitutes that offer the same fuel economy, practicality as diesel vehicles at comparable price points."

This comes on the heels of a report this week from Navigant Research that forecast plug-in electric vehicles totaling nearly 7.4 million units from 2015 to 2024.

Martin Winterkorn Resigns as Volkswagen CEO

Whiston pointed out that diesel vehicles compose a very small portion of the U.S. auto market, so any negative impact on Volkswagen is likely to be less in the United States than it would be if the same false emissions-testing technology were to be discovered in Europe. He said Volkswagen would suffer, however, if the problem were to be found in Audi vehicles sold in the United States.

Whiston said that "if Audi customers were angry enough about (the Volkswagen emissions scandal)" and sales of Audi vehicles dropped, then "that would be very bad news for Volkswagen in the U.S.," as a lot of its profit comes from the premium market.

Albertine called "deceit" by Volkswagen "stunning," but noted that the scandal doesn't involve a safety defect such as consumers saw with Takata's air bags or GM's ignition switches.

Martin Winterkorn, chief executive officer of Volkswagen, announced Wednesday that he will resign as a result of the recall surrounding the false emissions data produced by VW's diesel cars. The company also will dismiss the research and development chiefs of both Audi and Porsche as well as its top manager in the United States, according to Reuters.

A senior Volkswagen source told CNBC on Wednesday that more executives are likely to follow Winterkorn out the door, and that those announcements could come as early as Friday.