I am acutely aware that I could end up as being perceived as a frothy-mouthed middle-aged man with an axe to grind against Volkswagen, but I’m afraid I have further evidence of failed customer service by the firm that I feel obliged to take aim at.
Below is the message received by a colleague who owns a VW, confirming the news they feared:
Dear Volkswagen Customer,
We regret to inform you that the Type EA 189 engine built into you vehicle with the Vehicle Identification Number XXXXXXXX you submitted, is affected by software that may cause discrepancies in the values for oxides of nitrogen (NOx) during dynometer runs. Your car is safe from a technical standpoint and roadworthy.
We are very sorry to have broken your trust and are working at full speed to find a technical solution Volkswagen will cover the cost relating directly to this repair.
We will be in touch with you directly to explain what steps are required. We’ll do any rectification work at our cost.
I don’t expect VW to fall on its sword and confess to all and sundry why it cheated the system, but I would expect it to offer up a plain English explanation of the situation, and to express the effects more carefully - especially given the misinformation in some of the wider media coverage. More care is required in the wording elsewhere, too, I’d argue. For instance, “safe” is a word I understand, but what does “safe from a technical standpoint” mean? Is it non-technically unsafe?
By the same token, I see no comfort on the phrase “Volkswagen will cover the cost relating directly to this repair”. Presumably VW is covering itself lest anyone claim for time or travel expenses to return the cars, but I’ve always found apologies work best when they are fulsome and without caveats. A spot of heartfelt grovelling doesn't go amiss either; it certainly resonates louder than business-like administration.
But what really gets me is the sign-off. I can accept that VW cannot address an automated response personally to each customer - not least, I suspect, because it is still waiting for the licensing authorities to provide them with names and addresses of every owner. What I can’t accept is that this note is from the organisation itself as opposed to a person. Volkswagen is a gigantic corporate structure, a listing on the stock exchange and a badge on a car - none of these things are able to apologise.
If a company has done me wrong, I want a human, personal apology - ideally from the boss, be it globally or in the country I bought it from. I want someone to take responsibility, even if they played no part in the error. Anything less, I feel, is another snub - and another failure on VW's part to address the perceived arrogance that led to this sorry mess in the first place.