Brad Leach | Aug 18, 2016

The simmering dispute between Volkswagen Group Australia (VGA) and the Australian Automobile Association (AAA) has boiled over with VGA announcing yesterday both Volkswagen and Skoda will not be supplying cars for testing in this year’s Australia’s Best Cars Awards.

Conducted under the auspices of the AAA by the State Motoring Clubs (RACQ in Queensland, NRMA in NSW, RAA in SA and WA, and RACV in Victoria), ‘Australia’s Best Cars Awards’ are considered by many automotive brands to be the most authoritative and marketable of all of the various annual ‘gongs’ given to new cars.

However last year - following the emergence of the so-called ‘Dieselgate’ exhaust emissions scandal in North America - at the insistence of the AAA, the team selected from the various State motoring clubs running the testing program was instructed to remove Volkswagen Group vehicles from the results (even though the testing was complete and the process was pretty-much locked-up for the year).

In fact so advanced was the awards process, the AAA’s last-minute proclamation to jettison the Volkswagen Group products necessitated re-running the program and caused announcement of the 2015 Australia’s Best Cars Awards to be delayed.

VGA boss Michael Bartsch says the AAA’s decision to ban its products last year, even though none of those vehicles were affected by the ‘Dieselgate’ global recall, shows the awards “lack validity”.

“The AAA’s public statements inspire little confidence in its grasp of the fundamental issues,” Mr Bartsch said. “Moreover the AAA has become hostile not only to our brands, but to the motor vehicle industry that employs tens of thousands of Australians.”

Speaking at a media function on Tuesday Mr Bartsch pointed out that despite VGA only importing vehicles which were ahead of Australia's compliance requirements for exhaust emissions standards (with the tough and globally recognised Euro 5, and before that Euro 4), AAA saw fit to spend more than $500,000 of its member’s funds to conduct its own independent emissions tests.

"Volkswagen in Australia has always been ahead of the market in terms of the (EU) standards under which they bring cars here," Mr Bartsch said.

In a statement the AAA reports it has contracted Melbourne-based ABMARC to compare on-road emissions tests of around 30 of Australia’s top-selling models with the laboratory tests currently published.

“It has fallen to the AAA to do this on behalf of Australian motorists because the Australian Government does no testing to ensure car manufacturers comply with emissions regulations of the Australian Design Rules,” AAA chief Michael Bradley said.

“And because our government relies on lab testing done internationally, we do not know the real-world level of emissions produced by most models sold in Australia.”

Mr Bartsch questions that if the AAA apparently has no end of members' funds to spend on exhaust emissions testing, why it hasn't also taken-on similar test regimes for trucks and buses.

In a press release (text following), the AAA - in what would appear to be a 'tit-for-tat' dispute - again called for VGA to explain why Australian customers are not being offered the same financial contribution being paid to North American owners of Volkswagen vehicles affected by the recall.

AAA Press Release (17/08/2016)

Treatment of Australian VW customers highlights need for real-world independent emissions testing

The Australian Automobile Association (AAA) today renewed its call for Volkswagen Group (VW) to explain why Australian customers are less important than those in the USA, and for the Australian Government to commit to real-world emissions testing of new vehicles.

Reports that VW has publicly stated it has no intention of providing compensation to Australian VW owners, despite agreeing to pay customers in the USA an average of US$5,000, is a slap in the face to Australian consumers.

AAA Chief Executive Michael Bradley said reports in the media claiming VW had not broken any laws were pre-empting the findings of an investigation by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC).

“VW Australia reportedly claims no payment is due to Australian consumers because the company broke no laws. The ACCC stated in October last year that using defeat devices is specifically prohibited under the Australian Design Rules. It also indicated it would not hesitate to take action if consumers were exposed to false, misleading or deceptive representations,” Mr Bradley said.

“Regardless of the outcome of the ACCC’s investigation, VW has let down the Australian owners of around 90,000 vehicles. These Australians have faced almost a year of uncertainty in relation to the environmental performance, fuel usage and resale value of their vehicles.”

Mr Bradley said although VW may claim it does not owe Australian consumers compensation, in September 2015 its then global CEO Prof. Dr. Martin Winterkorn, issued a statement[i] that said: “We at Volkswagen will do everything that must be done in order to re-establish the trust that so many people have placed in us, and we will do everything necessary in order to reverse the damage this has caused.”

“The AAA commends the sentiment of this statement, but again asks that Volkswagen treat the millions of affected customers equally, irrespective of the country in which they live,” Mr Bradley said.

Amid growing concerns regarding the accuracy and usefulness of laboratory emissions testing in the wake of the VW scandal, the AAA is investing $500,000 to conduct an on-road emissions testing pilot of around 30 vehicles on the Australian market. The AAA believes the Australian Government should take on the role of administering an on-going real-world emissions testing program.

The AAA emissions testing pilot of the first 10 vehicles is due to conclude by the end of August. Test results for these vehicles will be available later in 2016. The AAA also plans to test a sample of affected Volkswagen Group diesel vehicles before and after remediation by the company.

MORE: Volkswagen Group | Australian Automobile Association

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