As of late, it feels like near-impossible for the Volkswagen Group to escape the damning nature of bad press. By this point, most everyone is aware of ‘Diesel-gate,’ the emissions scandal affecting 11 million vehicles worldwide, which has rocked VW forcing substantial reparations as a result of continuing legal action. Recent years have brought massive recalls for everything from under-performing brake systems to faulty airbags (albeit VW was not alone in that regard). And most recently, the ordeal of Audi’s faulty coolant system created fear of combustion in over a million vehicles worldwide, resulting in a vague and poorly executed two-tier response that won’t be fully resolved any time soon.
For anyone who lacks an awareness of Diesel-gate, well, here’s some background to lend some perspective on its massive impact.
But just when you think that there’s a pause in the maelstrom of negative headlines, May reports indicated that approximately 410,000 2018 VW Polo’s worldwide might be equipped with faulty seatbelts. Granted, VW specifies that “in rare situations…when the rear center seat and the rear left seat are occupied at the same time, the left seat belt lock could be unintentionally released,” but the announcement reeks of incompetence following the string of other well-publicized faults.
Take the Good, Take the Bad
That said, it’s important to recognize that the Volkswagen Group and its incorporated brands possess some of the highest loyalty and enthusiast rates in the global automotive industry. Audi, Bentley, Bugatti, Ducati, Lamborghini, and Porsche are just some of the global brands encompassed under the VW umbrella, and no-one expects the enthusiastic endorsement of those brands by their core fanbase to diminish any time soon.
But one can’t help but wonder if, as aspirational vehicles, they will continue to thrive in the minds of prospective new customers. Of this list, it’s reasonable to posit some of the brands will barely feel any effects. The simple truth is that a majority of laypersons are probably unaware of say Ducati or Lamborghini’s connection to the VolkswagenGroup, but for VW and Audi in particular, it might be hard to escape the shadow.
Whereas in recent decades, VW loyalists and those aspiring to get behind the wheel of an Audi might jump into the deep-end without a second thought, it’s highly likely that some prospective buyers might proceed with greater caution based on prevalence of recent bad press. This emphasize feels reinforced by the tendency of today’s society to form opinions from headlines, soundbites, click-bait articles and social media campaigns.
And yet, VW has reported strength in their early 2018 earnings. In terms of how this relates to the slow crawl of buy-backs and recalls might be interpreted in one of two ways. Perhaps a ‘buying-time’ measure, ensuring a slower drain on VW’s resources. Then again, perhaps the bureaucratic demands of facilitating such wide-scale issues is simply is slow-going process.
I’m not here to damn VW, praise them or bury them. As an (especially) enthusiastic fan of the Audi lineup, I’d like nothing more than to see them do right by their customer base and recover from the maelstrom of negative press we’ve seen in recent years. But I suppose only time will tell…