A company that has admitted perpetrating environ- mental fraud on nearly 500,000 U.S. consumers is following that up with a form of brand suicide.
By Joe Sweeney
It’s interesting, and more than a touch ironic, that as we released the March print issue with a feature on successful emerging brands, America is witnessing one brand in steep decline: Volkswagen.
Nearly three years after the German auto maker was exposed for having rigged the emissions-testing on VW and Audi turbo-diesel injection engines—11 million of which were sold around the world, nearly 500,000 in the U.S. and one in my household—the company remains immersed in a scandal that is killing its reputation as “the people’s car.”
As brand damage goes, this is entirely self-inflicted.
Some quick background: In October 2016, a federal judge approved a $14.7 billion settlement by which Volkswagen would notify affected U.S. owners and lessees of vehicles with 2.0-liter engines of a $10 billion buyback program (most of the balance of the settlement came in the form of a fine). Owners would be able to sell their cars back to the company for anywhere from $12,500 to $44,000, depending on factors like its age and model. Buybacks would start in November, 2016.
That process has become an object lesson in how to take a damaged relationship with your customers and turn them into lifelong buyers of ABVA—Anything But Volkswagen and Audi.
I purchased the top-of-the-line VW Passat TDI in 2015. The purported 41 mpg fuel efficiency was a key factor in that decision.
After reading about the legal action against the company and seeing its proposed terms of settlement, I decided to turn it back over to them and get another car—at that point, another VW or Audi wasn’t out of the question. But what followed has been a series of frustrating delays, deceptions and denials that have taken up countless hours of personal and company resources trying to get Volkswagen to simply do what has been ordered by the courts.
One would think a company that had so wrongly induced people to buy its products, by trading on their sense of environmental responsibility, would move like lightning to restore its reputation after a global scandal. One would be wrong.
In October last fall, the company’s U.S. office and the sales manager of Volkswagen of Lee’s Summit told me that VW would buy back the car by the mid-November date previously announced. Based on that promise, we purchased another vehicle, and news reports suggest that many thousands of others affected by this scandal across the nation did the same.
But after dozens of phone calls to the “resolution” center over the ensuing five months—averaging about 30 minutes on hold each time—we’ve been stonewalled again and again. We’ve been hit with multiple requests for additional notarized documentation, we’ve been told that we simply needed to be more patient and wait our turn, and never once has a call connected us to a manager authorized to satisfy the terms of VW’s commitment.
My suspicion is that VW has deliberately declined to authorize any managers who could do so.
At long last, a resolution letter with a formal offer to buy the car back was posted through the company’s class-action portal on March 3—fully 16 days after the document’s date and after multiple conversations with a Minneapolis law firm engaged in the resolution. Now we’re told that our options are to wait until late April for the first available appointment with an area dealer, or find one out of town who can move sooner.
In the meantime, we continue to make double car payments, double insurance payments and double tax payments. And, we continue to wait.
All of us, at times, must suffer with poor customer service. If you’ve been in business long enough, you can tell the difference between the merely sloppy and the orchestrated. This one has all the earmarks of a deliberate attempt by Volkswagen to string the process out, potentially with the goal of inducing complainants to just give up and walk away.
A few Volkswagen officials res-ponsible for the original emissions-test rigging have been indicted; it’s a mystery to me that more haven’t met the same fate in connection with the emissions fraud and the subsequent repurchase fiasco. Federal agencies intervening on behalf of consumers forced VW into the court settlement and fine for the environmental aspects and the fraud that underpinned them.
One can only wonder how much additional fraud and deceit American VW and Audi owners must endure before federal officials intervene again to right the wrongs inflicted by the company’s refusal to fulfill the terms of its court-ordered buyback program.
And wonder, as well, why this company is allowed to do business in the United States. Volkswagen has deceived 500,000 Americans they sold VW and Audi vehicles to, yet they continue to try and sell to billions of other consumers. I, for one, will never own another VW or Audi, and given our experience, I would question anyone else who currently owns one why they would, as well
Editor-In-Chief & Publisher