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18th Mar 2019

VW dismisses complaints on Dieselgate fix

  • Volkswagen co-organised an event about integrity and transparency. The European Ombudsman said the company's involvement in the event was 'obviously part of its bid to regain public trust' (Photo: Ken Lane)

German car giant Volkswagen (VW) has dismissed complaints about the way it has communicated to its European customers about what it does to fix cars that were equipped with emissions-cheating software.

"I think we have very good explanations on our website about that," VW management board member Hiltrud Werner told EUobserver on Thursday (8 March).

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"There is also additional material from our sales organisation. I think customers who want to get information – there is also a helpline – are able to receive information if they want," she said.

However, the lobby group representing consumer groups in Brussels, disagreed.

"Consumers are not sufficiently informed by Volkswagen," said Laurens Rutten, spokesman for European consumer organisation Beuc.

"Even worse, the German KBA refuses to disclose what the repair entails and what its impacts are," said Rutten.

The KBA, or Kraftfahrt-Bundesamt, is the German type-approval authority for cars which has approved the software update the German carmaker has designed for the 8.5m diesel vehicles which had test tampering software.

But VW has been criticised for the way it communicated to customers about what actually happens if they bring their 'Dieselgate car' to the garage.

"Such, we might say, 'non-information policy' can even be qualified as an infringement of consumer law. Volkswagen should send the necessary information to consumers in individual letters," said Beuc's Rutten.

His group, representing private consumer organisations, was not alone in its criticism. Last year, the combined consumer authorities of the 28 EU member states said that VW did not clearly explain the reason for the repair.

"The letters [send to affected customers] merely asked car owners to make an appointment with the workshop without any further explanation," the authorities said in a joint statement.

Eastern Europe

EUobserver reported last week that the rate of success of VW's recall campaign differs per EU country, with a markedly poorer showing in Eastern Europe.

On Thursday, VW management board member Hiltrud Werner acknowledged this.

"You really touched a big problem here," she said.

"One of the problems that we have [is how] to reach the customers – usually we don't own the customer data, that's our dealerships or the Kraftfahrt-Bundesamt or it's the certification authorities."

"If administration is weak, and you don't have clear representatives that can give you the customer data so that you can reach out to the customers, then you don't know how to reach them to bring them into the dealership," said Werner. "That is especially a problem in Eastern Europe."

She added that in Germany, the KBA was sending letters to customers to ask them to get the software update, and that VW needed the help of national authorities in the eastern countries.

Profits up

Werner, member of the VW's board of management for integrity and legal affairs, spoke on Thursday at an event in Brussels co-organised by VW titled 'Integrity, transparency and good corporate citizenship'.

The European Ombudsman, Emily O'Reilly, gave an opening speech.

"The company's involvement in this event today is obviously part of its bid to regain public trust and that is of course welcome," said O'Reilly.

She noted the irony that the company's emissions fraud has apparently not done much to harm profits.

"The challenge for the company might well be to continue its drive to create an ethical and compliant corporate culture in the face of some apparent consumer indifference to what it did," said the ombudsman.

Werner also gave a speech, in which she said the company had a long way to go, but was heading in the right direction.

"Volkswagen deeply regrets the misconduct that gave rise to the diesel crisis. It was not consistent with our values of the company," she noted.

She said that "multiple dozens" of people had been fired from VW as a result of the scandal.

However, she said that the company's internal investigation into how the cheating could have happened, was not yet finished.

"We are really working hard to proceeding with the investigation but it is still ongoing," she said.

Werner also said that it had been "only" two and a half years since the scandal erupted in September 2015, and added that other scandals involving German companies Daimler and Siemens took longer to resolve.

"Of course the downside of that is that we are already in the rebuilding of the company in some areas whereas the legal procedures especially in Germany are still ongoing," she added.

Despite the event's title stressing 'good corporate citizenship', Werner said she was not the right person to answer a question about the negative health effects the cheating affair will have on European citizens – a scientific estimate said that some 1,200 premature deaths can be expected from the affected cars in Germany alone.

She also did not want to explain why a VW lobbyist in 2016 met with European Commissioner Guenther Oettinger to discuss diesel emissions, when this was not part of his portfolio.

"I am not the right person to answer that. That is something our Volkswagen representation office here in Brussels can maybe answer better," she said.

However, that office has never responded to this website's emails.

Interview

Dieselgate disappointed car-loving commissioner

Industry commissioner Elzbieta Bienkowska often finds herself on opposite sides to the car industry, referring to diesel engines as the "technology of the past".

Germany's solution to Dieselgate: buy German cars

German owners of dirty diesel cars have received a letter from an official government body suggesting they buy a new car. But the promoted websites are all for German companies.

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