Note to VW: silence is not the answer
It has been a disastrous week for Volkswagen and its Australian customers.
For a company that prides itself on the quality of its German engineering and has aspirations to become the world's largest car maker, its reaction to reliability problems that have plagued some of its owners, highlighted by the significant number of emails and calls received by Fairfax Media, has provided a case study in damage control for all the wrong reasons.
By virtually burying its head in the sand and failing to respond to daily inquiries for almost a week, Volkswagen has ruptured the reputation of the brand. More critically, the confidence its owners have in their vehicles has been seriously undermined and the ramifications could mean those looking to buy a VW vehicle will choose another brand.
Volkswagen has finally reacted and will begin contacting affected owners. But it should never have gone this far, particularly considering that the company was aware of reliability issues and had issued recall notices in other countries.
According to a leading independent automotive public relations expert, it is a situation that should have been managed better from the outset.
"It's about a week too late," says Vicky De George, general manager of Melbourne-based Media and Communication Services.
"Considering the amount of coverage it has generated, this will be hard to forget and will remain in the consumer mindset for some time. The length of time it has taken [to react] has also allowed it to spread like wildfire through other channels such as talkback radio and social media."
De George said Volkswagen needed to be in constant communication with customers.
"Silence is not the answer in how to deal with a crisis," De George says.