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Stick your awards, says Volkswagen

Out too: Skoda’s Superb will be among VW Group cars absent for this year’s Best Car awards over a dispute with motoring clubs.

VW’s public dieselgate stoush with motoring clubs heats up with tit-for-tat claims

17 Aug 2016

VOLKSWAGEN Group Australia’s (VGA) war of words with Australia’s motoring organisations over diesel emissions heated up today when the German company announced it would refuse to submit any of its Volkswagen and Skoda cars for judging in the annual Australia’s Best Cars awards.

Audi Australia is also likely to steer clear of the awards over concerns about Best Cars judging practices, saying it would require “a robust discussion” with AAA before it would consider returning to the Best Cars fold.

The motoring clubs’ peak organisation, the Australian Automobile Association (AAA), responded by accusing Volkswagen Group of giving 90,000 vehicle owners in Australia “a slap in the face” by refusing to compensate them over the dieselgate cheat device affair, despite having offered American customers $US5000 ($A6519) each.

The stoush has some way to run, as the AAA – representing the influential eight state-based clubs such as the NRMA, RACV and RACQ – has hired an independent engineering consultancy to test real-world exhaust emissions on affected Volkswagen cars, along with up to 30 others of leading brands.

But VGA managing director Michael Bartsch has not taken a backward step, announcing that his company had declined an invitation from AAA to submit vehicles for judging in this year’s Best Cars awards, saying the awards lacked validity.

“The AAA’s public statements inspire little confidence in its grasp of fundamental issues,” Mr Bartsch said. “Moreover, the AAA has become hostile not only to our brands, but to the motor vehicle industry that employs tens of thousands of Australians.

“Volkswagen Group Australia continues to willingly submit its vehicles to judging in awards run by this country’s major media outlets. We enter these with no expectation of winning, but with every confidence in the ability of those organisations to arrive at the best outcomes for the car buying public.”

VGA said the AAA last year re-ran Best Cars after arbitrarily banning Volkswagen, Skoda and Audi over the diesel affair.

Mr Bartsch said the AAA had failed to acknowledge that none of these vehicles were affected by the global voluntary recall.

Volkswagen’s Tiguan, Amarok V6 and Skoda’s Superb are said to be in contention for a number of Australian and international awards.

Although Audi has not released a formal public statement on the issue, general manager corporate communications Anna Burgdorf told GoAuto that Audi still had concerns over the awards after Audi was excluded last year.

She said that as far as Audi was concerned, nothing had changed since the 2015 awards in November last year, and that “until a robust discussion” was held over the issue, Audi would be reluctant to accept an invitation to return to the awards.

Car manufacturers and distributors usually crawl over broken glass for a chance at a Best Cars award that – for the winners – becomes a handy marketing tool over the ensuing 12 months.

The companies also are usually reluctant to publicly engage in hostilities with the organisations that have wide influence over millions of car-driving members across Australia.

Minutes after the VGA press released landed in media inboxes today, the AAA issued its own missive, renewing its call for VGA to explain “why Australian customers as less important than those in the USA”.

AAA chief executive Michael Bradley said media reports in which VW claimed it had not broken any laws pre-empted an Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) investigation.

“VW Australia reportedly claims no payment is due to Australian consumers because the company broke no laws,” he said.

“The ACCC stated in October last year that using defeat devices is specifically prohibited under the Australian Design Rules. It also indicated it would not hesitate to take action if consumers were exposed to false, misleading or deceptive representations.

“Regardless of the outcome of the ACCC’s investigation, VW has let down the Australian owners of around 90,000 vehicles. These Australians have faced almost a year of uncertainty in relation to the environmental performance, fuel usage and resale value of their vehicles.”

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