Volkswagen Australia has at last broken its silence amid a spiralling and damaging media campaign - run, in the main, by Fairfax media - questioning the safety of its cars following the Victorian Coroner's inquest into the death of a 32 year-old woman at the wheel of a Golf.
The powerful motor clubs national body, the AAA, has also weighed into the issue with Executive Director Andrew McKellar (formerly CEO of FCAI) calling on the carmaker to speak up to address the matters at the centre of the storm.
Now, in an open letter on its Facebook site, the German carmaker has invited customers with concerns about their vehicles to contact the company directly or visit a Volkswagen dealer to arrange for a free vehicle inspection.
In the open letter, Volkswagen says it stands by the quality of its cars.
“However, we understand the recent coverage has caused some concern for our customers,” the letter reads. “We feel the best way to demonstrate our commitment is with several immediate measures.”
“For peace of mind, we’re offering free inspections of your Volkswagen vehicle at any Volkswagen dealer throughout Australia.”
Volkswagen dealers are understood to have been instructed to prepare for the influx by making more loan cars available to customers.
So what’s this all about?
The issue was sparked by the Coroner’s inquest into the death of a 32 year-old Melbourne woman whose Volkswagen Golf was hit from behind by a truck, the truck driver reporting that the car had suddenly and inexplicably slowed without the brake lights showing.
The reporting of this story prompted hundreds of Volkswagen owners across Australia to come forward, claiming similar problems of sudden loss of power with their cars.
Unfortunately, rather than get on the front foot to reassure customers, Volkswagen Australia chose to bunker down, allowing the issue to become a damaging wildfire for the brand.
It might have done better given its experience in other markets where it has had to address concerns relating to the reliability of DSG transmissions and of sudden loss of power.
The carmaker has been forced to issue apologies and recalls for vehicles in Japan, China and the USA and has increased the warranty on suspect components to ten years or 160,000km in some markets.
While there has been some commentary that Chinese-manufactured DSG transmissions are less reliable, DSG transmissions in Australian Volkswagens are manufactured in Europe.
But while reports of reliability issues relating to DSG transmissions and of sudden loss of power (most particularly relating to diesel engines) have been circulating here for some time, and there are undoubtedly numbers of concerned and disgruntled customers, the Victorian Coroner has not handed down his findings on the tragedy at the centre of the media storm.
In the view of The Motor Report, while there may be other issues, Volkswagen should not be pilloried on this tragic case until those findings are known.
While customer concerns are understandable, it is not at all certain - until the Coroner reports - that the vehicle in question powered down. Our understanding is that had the suspected power-down occurred, the vehicle's management computers would retain that information.
Unfortunately, the issue at the moment looks uncomfortably like a witch-hunt.
But of course, concerned Volkswagen owners should contact their Volkswagen dealer.
Tim O'Brien - TMR Managing Editor
(with Trevor Collett)
Volkswagen’s statement reads:
For 60 years, the safety and peace of mind of Australians has been our highest priority. We continue to stand by the quality of our cars and the integrity of our engineering excellence in meeting this responsibility.
However, we understand the recent coverage has caused some concern for our customers. We feel the best way to demonstrate our commitment is with several immediate measures.
For peace of mind, we’re offering free inspections of your Volkswagen vehicle at any Volkswagen dealer throughout Australia.
We have also set up a dedicated Customer Care hotline on 1800 504 076 (available Monday to Friday from 8:30am - 5:00pm AEST) and email at [email protected] Alternatively you can visit your local Volkswagen dealer.
If you are a current owner or in the market for a Volkswagen and want any questions answered, we are here to help.
We thank you for your support.