Volkswagen Group Australia (VGA) is in for some “turbulence” as a result of the ‘dieselgate’ saga, but the company’s senior management is confident that it will bounce back, as it did after the 2013 recall of its DSG transmissions.
Speaking this week with CarAdvice, departing VGA managing director John White said the company was committed to its long-term growth targets, committed to diesel engines in general and committed to fixing affected vehicles as soon as said repair is rolled out from its German-based engineers.
White also “unreservedly” apologised once again on behalf of Volkswagen “to restore lost trust”, though added that the Australian arm he leads is not in any way to blame for global engineering trickery, given it is a distribution company first and foremost.
“We still have aggressive long-term sales targets,” White said, speaking with us ahead of a national dealer conference this week, where senior VGA management anticipates it will receive “robust” questions from its network “on the front line” as the saga unfolds.
“Our fundamental long-term strategy is sound. Are we going to be in for some turbulence over the next year? Absolutely. But I think that once we’re able to announce the fix and get that sorted out, this like any other recall should allow us to move forward,” White claimed.
White told us last year of the company’s plans to move into the top-five in the Australian sales race — up from eighth — by 2020, based on new product, and spending money to improve its servicing infrastructure, thereby keeping its customers happier.
“I cant predict the future, but if I look at the DSG situation (VW recalled a number of DSGs in 2013) we had an immediate impact [on sales]. We’ve not seen the same impact to this. Obviously we have a stop-sale which is going to affect a certain number of cars.
“The fact there’s a certain number of cars we can’t sell is going to have an impact on short-term sales. Once we’re through that… as we demonstrated with the DSG situation, we were able to first get the situation under control, stabilise it, rebuild customer confidence and grow our business.
“I don’t see why the same thing isn’t possible again… Nobody in Australia did anything, was aware of this, current or past employees. That is absolutely clear.
“Once we’re able to make a concerted effort to come up with a fix… I think Australians are reasonable and pragmatic people… I can’t predict how some people will or won’t react… other manufacturers have had certain issues to deal with and bounced back. I see a bounce back.”
The sales bounce comes from continued expansion of its Golf and Amarok volume models, plus MY16 updates across its entire model range from the Polo upwards, to get class-besting infotainment such as standard Apple CarPlay and Android Auto.
There’s also the new-generation Passat launching this week, plus the new Tiguan coming around August 2016, and which the company sincerely believes can edge close to the sales of rivals such as the Nissan X-Trail and Mazda CX-5.
Any sales bounce will not, however, be overseen by White. Canadian White announced well before the diesel story broke his intention to retire, and will do so within weeks, to be replaced by former Porsche Cars North America and Infiniti America chief, Australian Michael Bartsch. White’s departure is unrelated to dieselgate.
At the heart of the ‘dieselgate’ issue is software installed in the Euro 5 ‘EA189’ diesel engines fitted to various VW, Audi and Skoda vehicles that helped the company forge favourable results in NOx emissions tests. It has cost the company billions of euros and damaged its share price and reputation.
Over the past few weeks, VGA — as part of a global campaign affecting about 11 million diesel vehicles — has temporarily halted the Australian sale of diesel Jetta, CC, B7 Passat, Tiguan and Caddy models, and the diesel Skoda Yeti and Superb. Diesel Golf, Touareg, Amarok and Octavia models are unaffected.
VGA has announced it will recall 61,189 VW passenger cars, 5148 Skodas, and 17,256 Volkswagen commercials, once a solution is devised. As VW management has said, it may take both hardware and software tweaks, and could also affect performance.