At the time of writing this blog on 6th of June 2013 VW Australia were seemingly refusing to address pressing safety and quality issues with its vehicles. In March this year VW in China took responsible action and recalled 380,000 vehicles and Singapore has more recently embarked on a similar re-call. But currently in Australia the hundred plus people who have contacted Fairfax Media with stories of dismay over how their VW vehicle had simply lost power, often in dangerous circumstances, is failing to stimulate a murmur from VW, let alone some action.
It would also seem that VW’s front line dealer staff have been ask to refer all press enquiries back to the company’s media relations team for some serious stonewalling. We are witnessing some true brand abuse. VW is a brand that has over the years built strong equity, but silence and the reluctance to do a re-call on a swag of faulty and dangerous products is beginning to erode that equity ever so quickly.
From a brand perspective poor product quality relative to expectations is always going to cause harm to the brand. But when you compound the quality matter with safety concerns and a lack of respect for those who have been loyal to the brand there has to be serious fall out for the brand. In terms of 101 Public Relations, the required action from VW is just that, action. There has to be a sense of ownership of the problem, genuine care for customers and a timely and relevant game plan put to those impacted.
What seems to be happening is a preference to retreat to the bunkers in the hope that it will go away. But it won’t. The lack of action is simply fuelling the fire and there are plenty of players, such as Fairfax Media, willing to see it develop into a true brand bonfire.
The lack of response from VW Australia has to be simply an exercise in misplaced greed. Surely the only reason VW has remained silent is that it does not wish to invest the dollars needed to remedy the situation. The estimated costs per vehicle for the re-call in China varied between $463 and $1,544. Perhaps China got action because it is VW’s biggest market globally. Last year VW’s portfolio of brands sold 2.81 million vehicles in China.
But for a brand with integrity the cost is the cost regardless the size of the market. It is about doing whatever is required to remedy the situation and return the trust that consumers have invested in the brand. Regardless of how VW responds moving forward they have done serious harm to the brand by opting for their bunker.
What is required is rather simple, and expressed with great German precision in the following statement from the VW subsidiary in the US;
‘We want to make owning a Volkswagen a great experience for every owner.
When the occasional proactive service action or recall must be issued, we want to help you get the problem fixed so you can get right back out on the road without a hassle.’
It seems a rather basic expectation to deliver, but unfortunately in Australia it seems beyond VW.