VW diesel fiasco may cost $186b

A machine being used to measure and analyse the exhaust fumes from the diesel engine of a Volkswagen Golf 2.0 TDI in a workshop in Frankfurt (above).
A machine being used to measure and analyse the exhaust fumes from the diesel engine of a Volkswagen Golf 2.0 TDI in a workshop in Frankfurt (above).PHOTO: EUROPEAN PRESSPHOTO AGENCY
The winning team from the National University of Singapore (above from left): Deputy Dean Professor Hum Sin Hoon, Mr Sean Ling, Ms Jasmine Lim, Mr Fabian Kho and Mr Clayton Chu.
The winning team from the National University of Singapore (above from left): Deputy Dean Professor Hum Sin Hoon, Mr Sean Ling, Ms Jasmine Lim, Mr Fabian Kho and Mr Clayton Chu.PHOTO: REUTERSFOSTER SCHOOL OF BUSINESS, UNIVERSITY OF WASHINGTON

NUS team came up with figure after collating information on the scandal and won an international competition with its project

Volkswagen (VW) stands to lose as much as US$136 billion (S$186 billion) - or nearly twice its current market value - in the fallout from its diesel scandal.

The bleak projection was highlighted in a National University of Singapore (NUS) Business School project, which topped an international business case competition in Seattle last month.

The figure is possibly the highest attributable to the fiasco so far.

The NUS team collated all published information on damages being sought in legal suits, vehicle recalls and vehicle buybacks to arrive at the figure. Its own analysis of the goodwill impact of the scandal - such as potential loss of future sales - was also included.

However, final-year business student Sean Ling, 25, who led the winning team, says the figure is "the worst-case scenario".

"Quite often, legal suits are settled at much lower sums than demanded," he says.

But if the worst-case scenario came about, it "could potentially be a huge crisis for VW", seeing that its market capitalisation - or its worth on the stock market - is currently about US$75 billion.

In September last year, the United States authorities revealed that Volkswagen had cheated on diesel emissions tests with a "defeat device" - a software that detects when a car is being tested, but is dormant otherwise.

Hence, diesel emissions of such cars were found to be up to 40 times higher during regular driving.

VW Group admitted that more than 11 million of its vehicles worldwide were affected, including a number of Audis and Porsches.

In Singapore, more than 650 cars are affected and VW diesel model sales remain suspended here until the cheating device is removed.

The void may well have been filled by BMW, which is enjoying unprecedented success in diesel model sales, driven primarily by its COE Category A 2-series models.

Mr Ling says VW must prioritise the re-establishing of trust. "It must look to rebuilding consumer confidence in its brand.

"It must work with external stakeholders - such as customers, governments and activists - with complete transparency and accountability."

He added that VW also needed to move away from its "results-driven culture".

"The new management plays a pivotal role here," he adds.

The NUS team, which beat 11 others from brand-name universities such as University of California Berkeley, Portugal's Universidade do Porto, the Chinese University of Hong Kong and Australia's Queensland University of Technology, says Volkswagen should also change its technology focus.

While diesel remains its cash cow in Europe, it must look to new growth areas such as electrification, ride-sharing and autonomous driving.

Electric drivetrains, the team says, holds the biggest growth potential for VW. It should maintain its interest in diesel, but reduce its attention, it adds.

On China, VW's biggest market, the team says the group should shift its focus to premium products on the back of hotter competition and growing affluence.

On financing its R&D efforts, which had long been internally funded, the team says VW may now have to consider other avenues such as rights issues and loans.

And, if necessary, it should also consider suspending dividend payment to shareholders to maintain its research and development budget.

Mr Ling says this will be painful in the short term, but shareholders will understand that it may be necessary for the long-term good - and perhaps, even survival - of the company.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 14, 2016, with the headline 'VW diesel fiasco may cost $186b'. Print Edition | Subscribe