Volkswagen Singapore meets owners of vehicles hit by emissions scandal

 A visitor checking out a car at the Volkswagen Centre showroom in Singapore.
A visitor checking out a car at the Volkswagen Centre showroom in Singapore.PHOTO: ST FILE

It apologises and promises car fixes, but at least one buyer is demanding a full refund

SINGAPORE - The scene was not unlike that of a posh car launch - buffet dinner, a "live" band and goodie bags at the door. But it was in fact a sombre briefing that Volkswagen (VW) Singapore held for owners of 662 vehicles affected by a diesel scandal involving 11 million vehicles worldwide.

VW had sought to reach out to its customers one month after United States regulators found that the manufacturer had incorporated a device in its diesel cars to cheat during emission tests.

At the briefing, held last Wednesday and Thursday, VW Singapore apologised to customers, assured them that their cars were roadworthy, and said solutions to fix their cars were on the way.

VW Singapore spokesman Colin Yong said: "We want them to know that they have our fullest support and that we intend to maintain complete transparency with them as we move forward."

But those who attended the event said that they came away with more questions than answers, and at least one has sent a lawyer's letter to demand that Volkswagen take back the VW Touran seven-seater which he bought in April.

Businessman Sanjay Samnani, 44, said: "It's a reputational thing. Do you want to be associated with a brand that cheats?"

Through law firm Parwani Law, Mr Samnani is demanding a total refund on the $132,900 car, citing that "a fraudulent misrepresentation was made" and that VW Singapore was in breach of the Consumer Protection (Fair Trading) Act.

Mr Samnani said that he is environmentally conscious, and that his last three cars were CNG (compressed natural gas) models.

He added: "There were a lot of grouses at the briefing, and people were asking what exactly they would do to rectify the cars. One person said any modification would surely affect the car's performance.

"But we got no assurance from Volkswagen."

There were also questions about how the saga would affect the resale value of the cars. But political consultant and Touran owner Peh Shing Huei, 40, said: "I usually use my cars for the full 10 years, so I'm not too bothered."

Mr Yong of VW Singapore said: "We understand that customers have many questions and concerns.

"We assure them that, if necessary, the technical measures will be carried out at no expense to them.

"All customers can be assured that we will conduct all the necessary actions in a way that will pose the least possible amount of disruption to them."

The Straits Times understands that most of the affected cars in Singapore would require hardware modifications, such as adding a nitrogen oxide treatment system to the car's exhaust.

Others may be "detuned" to lower power output in favour of better consumption and emission.

VW would not comment on these matters.

The Straits Times also understands that the National Environment Agency is looking to retest the VWs once the rectification work is done. But the agency is mum on this.

Meanwhile, the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has issued a notice of violation against Volkswagen Group for having emission cheating devices in more models. The cars, powered by 3-litre turbo-diesel V6 engines, include the VW Touareg, Porsche Cayenne and several Audi models. The 11 million cars affected so far have engines ranging from 1.2 to 2 litres.

But VW has denied the charge, saying "no software has been installed in the 3-litre V6 diesel power units to alter emissions characteristics in a forbidden manner".

"Volkswagen will cooperate fully with the EPA to clarify this matter in its entirety," it added.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 04, 2015, with the headline 'VW meets owners of scandal-hit vehicles'. Print Edition | Subscribe