TTAC has reported on VW’s plans to become the global number one. Looking at Toyota’s current quality problems, one could be excused for thinking that there just might be some substance to Wolfsburg’s plans. After all, Toyota’s days of glory seem to be over, while VW is on a roll, with sales growing and quality improving. Right?
Wrong. This year’s severe winter weather has exposed some quality glitches in Europe that have remained under-reported. And revealingly (for anybody interested in VW’s corporate culture), VW prefers to cover up the problems as long as possible.
One week ago, Germany’s Autobild published complaints by several owners of Golf Mk V’s that suffered from an odd tendency to burst. No, not in flames; what the suffering Germans compained of was of ice collecting under the A-beam, causing the car’s body to literally bend apart. VW’s reaction: blame it on the owner. Requests for VW to at least fund part of the repair costs were denied. One customer was so frustrated by the lack of help from VW that he paid for the $500 repair himself, but vowed to never again deal with VW.
VW’s corporate inertia was odd, considering that the problem was well-known to the company. An internal briefing paper prescribes installing a foam-plastic seal into the A-beam for “cold-weather countries”. Customers of other countries can opt for the seal too, at a cost of €150.00 ($200), if they are willing to pay out of pocket.
After the Autobild article was published, VW changed its mind and says it is now willing to pay for repairs under the condition that “the cause is clearly due to this phenomenon and there was no previous damage to the area.” So if your Golf is bursting at the seams, you’d better not have had a previous accident.
And VW is not planning a recall.
A similar problem, accompanied by a similarly arrogant VW semi-solution, has been in the news for years. During the last severe winter season of 2002/2003, hundreds of VWs died a spontaneous death when their crankshaft vents got iced up, causing oil to cascade out of the engine. Only after weeks of negative press did VW stop blaming the cars’ owners, and agreed to replace engines.
But (see where we’re coming from?) there was never a recall. With predictable results: Autobild has last week reported of several people who bought six-year-old used VWs, hoping they would be reliable, only to see them self-distruct after one really cold night.
VW’s response: to pay for repairs if the owner could provide proof of uninterrupted maintenence, done at a VW dealership. One gentleman who bought a VW Polo with 50k miles two months before it died, says: “Who has this kind of documentation on a seven-year-old car? What difference does it make to the fact that VW built an engine that can’t cope with frost?”
With its massive domestic market share, VW can probably afford to behave arrogantly in Germany. But is this a recipe for international expansion?