Auto Service World
News   October 2, 2015   by Steve Pawlett

Volkswagen’s Reputation Takes Big Hit With Vehicle Owners

A recent survey by AutoPacific reveals only 1 out of 4 vehicle owners have a positive opinion of Volkswagen following the recently unveiled diesel deception, compared to 3 out of 4 prior to hearing the news. In addition to drivers now thinking less of Volkswagen, their opinion of the Audi brand, a Volkswagen subsidiary, has also eroded: 29% now say they have a favorable opinion of the brand, compared to 69% prior to the news break. The AutoPacific survey of over 500 vehicle owners captured consumers’ perception of Volkswagen, their opinions on the impact of the diesel deception on the automotive industry, and their perception of the future of the diesel market in the United States.

Volkswagen’s diesel deception has been at the forefront of news following their admission to using “defeat devices” on their Turbocharged Direct Injection (TDI) models between 2009 and 2015. The “defeat device”, a computer code in the cars’ powertrain management software that temporarily cuts emissions during testing so the engines appear to be cleaner than they are during normal operation, has allowed the automaker’s vehicles to falsely pass emission testing.

How Serious is This Situation for Volkswagen?

Sixty four percent of survey respondents say that in light of the issue, they do not trust Volkswagen. “How Volkswagen handles this issue is critical. Trust in an important issue with consumers, and every brand works hard to maintain that trust,” says Dan Hall, vice president at AutoPacific.

The survey data also reveal that 64% of respondents think other manufacturers are, or may be, using defeat devices on their diesel vehicles and 55% think gasoline vehicles are similarly affected. “These figures point to the overall skepticism of consumers with manufacturers,” notes Hall.

When asked to compare the severity of this issue to the safety-related issues of the General Motors and Toyota ignition switch recalls, the largest percentage of those surveyed felt that the Volkswagen situation is less serious than the recent GM (44%) and Toyota problems (42%).  “It is likely that consumers feel less impacted by an environmental issue than a safety issue,” says Hall.

Where Do Diesels Go From Here?

According to AutoPacific’s light diesel sales forecast, Volkswagen and Audi diesel passenger cars had been on track to account for 87% of the diesel passenger car market in 2015 prior to the scandal. “Volkswagen has, by far, been the leader in diesel passenger car sales up until now,” says Ed Kim, vice president of Industry Analysis at AutoPacific. “With diesels making up over 17% of Volkswagen and Audi’s total sales in 2014, this change in consumer opinion will put a significant dent in the brands’ overall sales.”

Kim continues, “Volkswagen was a tremendous catalyst in the marketing of diesel engines as being clean and fuel efficient. Their marketing efforts over the past several years not only improved consumer opinions about the performance of diesels in the U.S., but also sold consumers on the environmental-friendliness of their vehicles. Now, the reputation of diesels has been severely damaged, at least for the short term.”

How short-term? While 80% of respondents say the VW issue is a “big deal,” only 8% believe that it will lead to the death of diesel sales in the U.S. “Consumers have proven through numerous recalls that they are resilient and quickly return to their buying habits,” says Kim. “However, diesel is a ‘challenger’ technology in the alternative powertrain market that lacks established popularity. As such, diesel will have a long and tough road to resumed growth in the U.S. market.”


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