Volkswagen still bugged by consumer complaints

The Volkswagen Centre Singapore showroom at Alexandra Road. Volkswagen continues to have the dubious honour of hogging the pole position when it comes to customer complaints according to data from the consumer watchdog, Consumers Association of Singa
The Volkswagen Centre Singapore showroom at Alexandra Road. Volkswagen continues to have the dubious honour of hogging the pole position when it comes to customer complaints according to data from the consumer watchdog, Consumers Association of Singapore (Case). -- PHOTO: ST FILE

VOLKSWAGEN (VW) continues to have the dubious honour of hogging the pole position when it comes to customer complaints.

Data from the consumer watchdog, Consumers Association of Singapore (Case), showed that the German brand garnered 12 new-car complaints from customers from January last year to the first four months of this year.

The figure was more than double that of complaints made against BMW and Mercedes-Benz, which shared the second spot. The two brands had five complaints each for the same period.

Comparing complaints measured as a ratio against new cars each of the three brands sold, VW's performance was even bleaker. It had 3.41 complaints for every 1,000 cars sold, versus 1.2 for BMW and 0.76 for Mercedes-Benz.

VW fared worse than its previous record. Between January 2013 and April last year, it had 11 complaints, earning it the top spot on Case's list.

The Straits Times understands most of the complaints pertain to glitchy gearboxes.

Civil engineer Uttar Kumar, 52, who bought a VW Passat 1.4 in December 2012, was among those who filed a Case complaint this year.

He said he did so after Volkswagen Singapore failed to resolve problems with the car's gearbox despite numerous attempts.

He said he noticed the car made abnormal noises on the first day. The noises grew louder and the car became jerky.

"It was in the workshop almost every two to three weeks," Mr Kumar recalled.

The car, he said, is still not satisfactory, despite its clutch, a component of the gearbox that is used in changing gears, having been replaced in 2013.

"It's still not smooth, it shakes when it starts, there is power loss and sometimes there is a grinding noise," he said.

Volkswagen Singapore spokesman James Page dismissed claims that its cars were defective.

For instance, he said two of the three complaints filed with Case in the first four months of this year were unfounded.

"There was absolutely nothing wrong with the cars," he said. "The customers involved perceived there to be some faults, and requested a warranty extension and a car replacement respectively. We could not accede to their requests and they lodged complaints with Case."

In the third case, the customer did have some genuine issues with his car, he said, and repairs were covered under the car's warranty. Volkswagen Singapore also extended the warranty by one year.

"Nonetheless, he still made a complaint to Case," he said.

Checks with independent service quality firm JD Power revealed that VW's ranking in other markets has not been sterling, either.

In the United States, JD Power's 2015 Vehicle Dependability Study found VW had 165 problems per 100 cars - more than the industry average of 147.

In Malaysia, the brand ranked last in the firm's 2014 Customer Service Index. Even in its home market Germany, VW ranked above average - but below brands such as Toyota, Mitsubishi and Skoda - in the 2014 Vehicle Ownership Satisfaction Study.

christan@sph.com.sg