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The death of an Australian woman who was rear-ended two years ago is making new headlines. In 2011, 32-year-old Melissa Ryan was killed when a truck with two trailers hit her Volkswagen Golf from behind. A coroner is looking into the matter. The report is expected to be completed in July. In the meantime, Australian media does not let simple technical facts get in the way of a bad story.
The matter received new publicity after Fairfax Media, an Australian group that owns large Australian and New Zealand newspapers, along with the popular Australian car site drive.com.au, published a story about the inquest. The story in drive.com.au and sibling media starts with reports that “at least 15 Volkswagen owners have revealed they experienced the same terrifying loss of acceleration that appears to have led to the 2011 death of 32-year-old Melissa Ryan.” This while the cause of the death has yet to be determined.
Seven paragraphs into the story, it makes the laborious statement that “Fairfax is not suggesting Ms Ryan’s death is linked to a fault in her car,” only to suggest in the rest of the story, that it was the car that killed Ms. Ryan, and that it was Volkswagen’s bedeviled DSG gearbox that killed her:
“Volkswagen has this year issued recalls for almost 400,000 of its cars in China and 91,000 in Japan for problems with the high-tech automatic direct shift gearbox (DSG). The DSG problems have been connected to sudden power loss.”
Also, says the paper, there is “an injector problem with some diesel models” of Volkswagen, which can lead to “sudden deceleration.”
The trouble is, Ms. Ryan’s Golf had a stick shift, a fact that was noted, but nonetheless ignored in the story. The car also ran on gasoline, a fact that remained unmentioned.
It was left to Karl Gehling, spokesman of Volkswagen Australia, to state:
“The vehicle at the centre of the inquest is equipped with a petrol engine and a manual transmission. Neither of the customers interviewed for the story has a vehicle fitted with a DSG transmission either.”
In a follow-up story on Saturday, drive.com.au reports that “the federal government has launched an investigation into possible faults in popular models of Volkswagens which have led to motorists experiencing a frightening and sudden loss of acceleration while driving their cars.” It also says that “Volkswagen did not return Fairfax Media’s calls.”
It took TTAC all but five minutes to receive a return call from Volkswagen’s Wolfsburg HQ to Tokyo. Peter Heinz Thul, at Volkswagen responsible for groupwide Product Communication, said:
“There is no reason why this accident, which occurred now more than two years ago, is gaining attention again in connection with the recalls in China and Japan in relation to the dual-clutch gearbox (DSG). The accident definitively had nothing to do with the DSG, as the Golf GTI involved was fitted with a manual gearbox.”
Drive.com.au prides itself of being “Australia’s Largest Car Review Website,” but is willing to ignore the fact that clogged diesel injectors can’t slow down a car that runs on pump gas, just like DSG troubles would be hard pressed to affect a manual.
The sudden attention may even come as a disfavor to the deceased and her beneficiary heirs. According to a source close to the inquest, there may be a witness who talked to Ms. Ryan via a cellphone while she died.