Volkswagen dealers in crisis

Mind your messaging

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The response to Volkswagen’s deceptive use of software to fake emissions results is still unfolding, as are announcements of measures the automaker will take to address the damage.[1]

Governments around the world, including the U.S., have announced they will launch investigations.

At last count, over two dozen class action lawsuits have already been filed in the U.S., several of which have been filed in California, including one that names a Volkswagen dealer, Gary Arabian v. Volkswagen Group of America, Inc.; New Century Volkswagen; Solazyme, Inc.; Amyris, Inc.

While this scandal is not the type to cause 124 deaths and 275 injuries, like those caused by GM’s hiding of a deadly safety defect, it has the potential to ruin Volkswagen franchise sales and values because the crux of the issue is the same – trust. Volkswagen’s U.S. identity is closely tied to the promise of “clean diesels.” Environmentally conscious consumers, like many buyers found in California, who bought Volkswagen diesels on this promise have been insidiously defrauded by the automaker and seek their pound of flesh.

But Volkswagen dealers have been equally defrauded by the automaker. And the American public often doesn’t understand the difference between the factory and the independently owned and operated Volkswagen dealerships. While dealers may have their own class claims against Volkswagen (and grounds for obtaining concessions that they were previously unable to get), to avoid further damage to their franchises, Volkswagen dealers should develop a clear message to the public in response to the automaker’s mess.

While each dealer should consider their own voice and market in putting forth their message, some things Volkswagen dealers might consider in developing their messaging are as follows:

  1. Acknowledge consumer concern about Volkswagen’s recent revelations concerning its TDI vehicles and establish that you share that concern;
  2. Explain that information is still coming out concerning the TDI vehicles, that you only know as much about it as your customers and that you are watching the factory and the government’s response as much as they are;
  3. Re-establish your commitment to your valuable customers and confirm that you are standing by to implement any and all fixes to the TDI vehicles that the factory or government require and provide to you; and
  4. As to all of Volkswagen’s other vehicles, confirm your strong commitment to the brand and your loyal customers.

Since you likely have no knowledge of the accuracy of the allegations leveled against Volkswagen or the merit of the claims made in any of the consumer class action lawsuits, you want to avoid making any statement that confirms those allegations or that further tarnishes the brand. Remember, your livelihood is as much at stake as is Volkswagen’s reputation.

[1] Though, on Sunday, September 28, 2015, Volkswagen of America launched a new consumer information site vowing to fix the 482,000 diesel cars in the United States that are committing excess pollution as “soon as possible.”