There are small but positive signs that the Volkswagen Group is finally getting its act together.
Everything is relative, of course, but this feels like it has been quite a good week for the VW Group. So much so that I’m finally starting to believe the firm can begin the arduous and almost certainly long journey to redemption.
Firstly, the number of cars affected by the CO2 scandal reduced from a potential 800,000 to 36,000. Then the leadership took the bold decision to face the world’s press and update them on their investigations to date.
While there weren’t as many answers forthcoming as some would have liked, it seemed to me that Matthias Müller and co made a decent stab of apologising once more, and emphasising that they were doing all they can to make amends for their predecessors’ wrongdoings. They gave the impression of having identified most of their problems and understanding the solutions.
Now, today, the latest global sales figures have landed. They don’t make great reading - overall sales are down 4.5% year on year, and that drop has accelerated in recent months. In an accompanying statement, sales boss Jürgen Stackmann prosaically admits that “In view of the situation of the brand, which is currently challenging, I do not expect that we will be able to compensate for this fall in the remaining days of the year”.
There are bright points, though: deliveries in China (+8.6% year-on-year in November) are up. Europe (+2.4%), too, provided a highlight, with rises being recorded in Germany (+3.7%).
In the US, it’s clear that VW has more to do, with deliveries down 24.7% in November. It’s also clear that VW’s own and very selected breakdown of sales doesn’t highlight what we must presume are some equally catastrophic drops in other countries around the world.
But this isn’t just about dieselgate. The large Brazilian (-51.4% last month) and Russian (-31.8% last month) markets have been down all year, rocked by political and economic uncertainty. The company also highlights the numerous central and eastern European countries that have economies collapsing in the shadow of the ongoing crisis in Russia.
There are harder times, ahead, no doubt. But to be able to draw any positives from a period that must be the most turbulent in any major car company’s history must be a positive sign. I abhor VW’s cheating as much as anyone, but I’ve no interest in seeing it fail. Its 600,000 employees and the world’s car buyers don’t deserve that.