The motor industry did pretty well in the UK in November – the total number of new car registrations was up 3.8% year-on-year and 8% compared with October, according to the SMMT. But the joy wasn’t shared by everyone in the industry.
Sales at Volkswagen Group, which sensationally admitted cheating emissions tests in October, have absolutely tanked. Sales of its eponymous brand were down around 20% on October, but the misfortune spread across the wider group as well.
Skoda sales fell 11% and Seat a whopping 23.8%. Its more premium brands held up better, but Audi and Porsche sales still fell 0.8% and 4.4% respectively. This looks like a pretty decisive answer to the question, do scandals like this (which, let’s be honest, don’t directly harm consumers all that much) seriously weigh on performance?
The figures do make you wonder what motivates the consumer though. Presumably they’re not all that fussed to discover that VW’s cars are a bit less environmentally friendly than they previously thought. For some the decision to avoid buying a VW is probably about the scandal’s practical implications – worries they might have to return their shiny new car for a refit to make sure it does meet the required standards.
But the decline must surely be about integrity as well. VW has long been a well-trusted brand. It's a symbol of Germany’s post-war regeneration and its cars themselves just feel like they’ve been put together well. But finding out the company has been dishonest must set the mind racing. If they’ve cut corners on emissions tests, what else have they cut corners on? Reliability? Fuel consumption? Maybe even seatbelts?
It’s possible that, in this case, consumers will have a short memory. Splashing out £25,000 on a new Passat doesn’t seem like a bright idea while VW’s woes are plastered all over the news, but things could return to business as usual by this time next year. Nonetheless it’s likely to be a long time before VW can claim to be as trusted as it once was.