Dear VW, Please Do More

vw dieselgate update
Repairing a reputation. Source: DPA

Consumer protection authorities in all 28 EU states have called on Volkswagen to provide additional guarantees to owners of VW vehicles affected by the company’s emissions scandal.

Spearheaded by the Netherlands Authority for Consumers and Markets, they implored the automaker to ensure all 8.5 million diesel vehicles outfitted with test-defeating devices are properly retrofitted and to guarantee repairs would not adversely affect the vehicles’ functionality and drivability.

The joint letter to VW CEO Matthias Müller, a copy of which was obtained by Handelsblatt, increased pressure on the German automaker to do more to win back trust after years of systematic deception.

The automaker has gotten off relatively easy in Europe, unlike in the United States, where Volkswagen was forced to pay billions of dollars in fines. So far, Volkswagen has only agreed to cover the expense of installing new software in affected diesel vehicles by this fall.

Under pressure from EU Justice Commissioner Věra Jourová, the company also agreed to an additional “confidence-building measure,” assuring customers that the retrofits would not harm their vehicles. That assurance is valid for two years and covers 11 components, including the exhaust purification and fuel injection systems.

For the 28 national authorities who signed the letter, however, those measures do not go far enough.

“Even two years after the discovery of the software, a large part of the affected vehicles have still not been repaired,” the letter read, adding that if VW failed to meet its fall 2017 deadline for free repairs, it should extend it.

The confidence-building measure should not only be explained better to customers, the authorities argued, but also made legally binding and applied to the entire vehicle.

Customers need this information in order to make an informed decision about whether to have their car repaired, the letter added. The authorities also said they “encouraged” Volkswagen to make further voluntary concessions to consumers in light of the inconvenience.

Volkswagen has one month to respond to the letter. Should the company refuse to cooperate voluntarily, the consumer protection advocates’ suggestions could become compulsory.

Volkswagen has one month to respond to the letter. Should the company refuse to cooperate voluntarily, the consumer protection advocates' suggestions could become compulsory.

Volkswagen has so far rejected the authorities’ new calls, saying that retrofits of affected diesel vehicles were on schedule. In total, 6 million diesel cars, about a third of which are in Germany, have already been equipped with new software.

“We are working steadily to implement the action plan. We are doing very well and have so far achieved every intermediate goal we have set for ourselves,” a VW spokesman said.

It is unlikely that Volkswagen would agree to retrofit every affected diesel vehicle in Europe, since only Germany, Austria, Finland and Portugal have mandated such repairs. In other EU member states the installation of new software is optional.

The automaker has also refused to provide additional guarantees to customers — especially legally binding ones — that software updates won’t affect their cars’ functionality. Volkswagen claims that extensive testing has proven that the software update has no negative effects on components in the engine or the exhaust gas cleaning system.

There will also be no financial compensation for drivers in Europe like that in the US, the company has said. According to Volkswagen, a retrofitted diesel vehicle works fine and owners are not financially disadvantaged.

Volkswagen could soon be one of several German automakers being asked about the consequences of its software updates. In early August, Germany’s major auto manufacturers announced that around 5.3 million cars needed to be recalled and retrofitted.

Owners of BMW and Mercedes cars, therefore, could soon wish to know whether those companies intend to provide them with any guarantees as well.


Till Hoppe writes about foreign policy for Handelsblatt. Stefan Menzel writes about the auto industry focusing on Volkswagen. To contact the authors: hoppe@handelsblatt.com, menzel@handelsblatt.com.

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