An Open Letter to VW’s Mismanagement

Jonathan Browning
President and CEO, Volkswagen Group of America
Volkswagen of America, Inc.
2200 Ferdinand Porsche Drive
Herndon, Virginia 20171

I realize that your interest in my current problem and opinion of your company is probably as close to non-existent as humanly possible. In fact, based on VW’s corporate attitude, it’s likely that you don’t care about anyone who owns one of your products. Regardless, I own a second-hand VW-powered Winnebago motorhome. The VW Eurovan front-end to my little vehicle seemed like a pretty clever piece of engineering, until the transmission and/or engine-control electronics broke down.

There is a pretty extensive users’ group for this vehicle, the Winnebago Rialta; which was produced in the USA from 1995 to 2004. One given assumption well-known across this group of dedicated and knowledgeable recreational vehicle owners is that Volkswagen’s service departments are next-to-useless and grossly overpriced. I mean this is an absolute conviction from a substantial group of VW-powertrain owners, not an occasional comment. If you think some silly advertising and a lot of Forbes Magazine hand-waving is going to fix that, you are as delusional as Donald Trump.

When my vehicle started acting as if the transmission were hitched to a rodeo animal, I foolishly took it to a VW dealership in Albuquerque, New Mexico where I was told I needed a $7,500 replacement transmission. I was warned in advance that would be the response and some of the people who provided that warning had unhappily wasted that money in the past. I was warned that a visit to a VW dealership would be a waste of time and money and that I’d drive away $7,500 poorer and with all of the same problems with which I’d arrived. So, when that threat came likely I collected my vehicle and hauled it off to an independent service business.

While I was doing some research on my vehicle’s lame power train and unreliable electronics, I learned a few things about Volkswagen in the 21st Century. For example, I was amazed to learn that VW holds an dismal 2% of the US market share. VW Chairman Ferdinand Piech’s inability to “understand the U.S.” (as he put it in a Bloomberg.com interview) is directly related to the fact that U.S. car owners talk to each other. VW’s reputation is of an overpriced, unreliable vehicle with terrible customer service. You can probably get away with customer-hostile behavior in Germany, where the whole damn country is smaller than some U.S. counties and you can push your VW home if it fails halfway across the country. In a country where we often drive across a thousand miles of barely-populated desert, mountains, and plains, owning a car that has a terrible reputation for reliability and whose dealers are well-known for price gouging and incompetent service is down right stupid.

Obviously, my problem has nothing to do, directly, with sagging new car sales. Stories like mine, however, scare the crap out of wise prospective buyers who either plan to keep their vehicle past the warranty deadline or sell it when they buy their next vehicle. They talk to the less wise, more typical buyer and your company’s sales suffer.

I am a motorcyclist, for example. I’m an 65-year-old motorcyclist who will, sooner rather than later, have to give up the two-wheel pursuit of happiness and trade my bikes for something less satisfying but slightly cool. I’d set my sights on a new VW Beetle convertible as a throwback to the wonderful 1967 VW convertible I  owned when I was a young man. Having suffered the slings and arrows of outrageously expensive VW service, there is no chance that I’d consider your company for my late-life-crisis convertible.

Your marketing idiots are wrong. They usually are. Snazzy new ads are only putting paint on a turd. To regain US market share, VW should reconsider its winner-take-all service policies and take a page from your company’s humble beginnings in the US and retool your dealers, parts distribution, and service centers’ training so that you can deliver excellent service for reasonable prices and, maybe, you’ll have a chance of putting a dent in the sales of Ford, Toyota, Honda, Hyundai, Kia, and whatever Chinese brand arrives on our shores next week. Keep going the way you are going and you will have made some marketing morons rich and you’ll still be at the bottom of the pile.

1 comment:

  1. Anonymous1/05/2017

    A friend of mine is somewhat of a VW fan, races one in SCCA. His partner, in need of a car to replace her aging and somewhat ailing Saturn wanted something sporty with a manual transmission.
    They found a new Jetta Sport at a local store (turbo, 6 speed) that she really liked, and signed a lease.
    A few days later they were down in Springfield IL and it wouldn’t start. Called a local dealer, it went in and was diagnosed with a faulty ECU. Couldn’t get one for several days. Rented a car to get home on VW’s tab, and were most unhappy. The car only had 1100 miles at this point.
    VW said they would ensure the car got back up here, fast forward three weeks and it finally showed up on New Years day, sunday. It wouldn’t start.
    The driver finally got it going, got it off the trailer and Glenn parked it. Next morning it wouldn’t start again.
    Called the dealer to come and get it.

    They are really not happy