Exclusive: VW weighs up fuel cheat cashbacks for Aussies

Volkswagen Golf R, Skoda Octavia RS join Golf GTI on emissions cheats list

Blue Volkswagen Golf R

VOLKSWAGEN Golf GTI, Golf R and Skoda Octavia RS buyers may be reimbursed for extra fuel costs if the factory is found to have manipulated test results quoted in Australia.

VW Group Australia managing director Michael Bartsch made the offer yesterday as he revealed that the high performance, turbo petrol Golf R and the turbodiesel Skoda Octavia RS TDI had joined the popular Golf GTI hot hatch on the list of Australian delivered, 2016 model cars that may have cheated emissions tests.

The three current Australian models were named at the weekend by Volkswagen Group in Germany as among a big range of European delivered cars for which carbon dioxide emissions – and fuel consumption – had been understated, through the manipulation of mandated test conditions.

However, the German head office was yet to inform its Australian importer whether the understated figures appeared in Australian model certification, Bartsch said.

Bartsch said the key question locally was whether the cars had gained Australian compliance under the manipulated Euro 6 testing, or whether cars sent here had been tested independently and accurately under Australia’s older Euro 5 standard.

“Until we have that answered, we don’t know whether we have an issue here or not,” he said.

He emphasised that even if the tests of Australian cars had been manipulated, the results would affect only the quoted official fuel consumption and CO2 emissions figures. It was not expected there would be any effect on performance.

If it turned out that fuel consumption quoted in government mandated testing was lower than it should have been, VW would likely reimburse Australian customers for real fuel costs incurred as a result.

“I still have to liaise with my colleagues in Germany. But I think the principle is that we would hold ourselves accountable for customers being no worse off as a consequence of a representation made by the company,” Bartsch said.

He also emphasised that Volkswagen Group’s admission at the weekend that it had provided “implausible” test data for CO2 emissions on 430,000 of its 2016-model cars globally had arisen from its own efforts to get to the bottom of its Dieselgate scandal.

After the US Environmental Protection Authority confronted it with independent pollution results, VW Group revealed in September that a staggering 11 million of its diesels had been fitted with engine control software that cut emissions when tested.

In real-world driving, the diesels emitted nitrogen oxides – a smog component linked with breathing problems in city residents – at between five and 40 times the permitted level, the EPA found.

The test-cheating software had been used on 1.6-litre and 2.0-litre EA189 turbodiesel engines fitted to a big range of vehicles produced since 2008, VW Group said.

An internal probe has since uncovered separate efforts to manipulate fuel consumption and CO2 emissions tests for many current petrol and diesel models – reportedly not through the use of cheating software, but by overinflating the tyres of test cars and taking other steps designed to decrease fuel use.

Bartsch, who moved from vice-president of Infiniti America to take the helm of VW Group Australia only a month ago, said he was not in a position to know whether the latest revelations represented the final instalment of the emissions saga that has shaken Volkswagen Group – briefly the world’s biggest car maker – to its core.

He acknowledged that the scandal had affected Australian sales, and said there was also a lesson for Volkswagen in Australia on the importance of keeping its customers informed.

“First of all, 2015 was progressing to be an incredibly strong year for us. It will remain a record year for us. But not as good as it could have been,” he said.

“Secondly I think we have to acknowledge that there are always lessons to be learnt from situations like this, and the lesson that we are learning from this – is to keep the lines of communication open as much as possible, between Volkswagen Australia and our customers.”

There was a lot the Australian importer could learn about explaining to customers why it had taken so long for information to come out of Germany, Bartsch said.

“For example, there are some 1200 different engine management configurations that have to be tested with regard to the diesel emissions crisis and that all takes time.

“The big challenge we have here is that prudence and thoroughness, and the time that comes with prudence and thoroughness, on the VW Wolfsburg side, can too readily be interpreted as tardiness on our side. And it’s simply not the case.”

VW Group brands in Australia have announced they will recall nearly 100,000 cars fitted with the EA189 diesels so as to ensure that emissions comply with Australian law.

However, they are yet to detail the timing of the recall, or to explain what will be changed and how the cars will perform afterwards.

Asked whether Australia would follow VW in the US in offering affected diesel owners a financial sweetener to restore faith, Bartsch said it was too early to say – because VW in Germany was yet to explain what the recall would do.

“I think first of all you have to acknowledge that the US market is very different from Australia’s,” he said.

“We’re a global brand but we have to find local solutions. My responsibility will be to determine what we can do to hold the good faith of our customers.

“But I can only do that when I know all the details, which includes what are the details of the solution for fixing the fundamental problem.

“I still don’t know that, but I will know it by Christmas this year.”


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