AJAX, ONT. — The diesel emissions scandal is “history” to Volkswagen Canada CEO Daniel Weissland. Now it’s his job to help repair the automaker’s image in Canada.
“Hopefully, people understand what happened two and a half years ago, yes, was bad, but we paid the bill and we made sure that we take care of our customers,” Weissland told Automotive News Canada in his first interview since taking over as VW Canada CEO in December.
The scandal still looms large over VW in the public eye, even as its sales in Canada surge.
Volkswagen was found in 2015 to have sold vehicles with software that allowed them to pass emissions tests despite emitting nitrous oxide levels up to 35 times the legal limit in Canada.
“To me, it’s already history and if you ask customers, it’s already history,” Weissland said. “There are some who still like to write about it because it’s a nice headline, but for us it’s history. We deal with our customers, make sure they’re happy and that they stay with the Volkswagen history, and the rest will come.”
Globally, Volkswagen has been mired in lawsuits and regulatory battles in the wake of the scandal. In Canada, that has resulted in settlements with customers who bought affected vehicles with 2.0-litre and 3.0-litre diesel engines.
An Ontario Superior Court judge on April 18 approved a settlement worth up to $290.5 million with about 20,000 owners of 3.0-litre VW, Audi and Porsche diesel vehicles in Canada affected by Volkswagen AG’s diesel emissions-cheating scandal.
A 2.0-litre settlement was approved in 2017. About 70 per cent of those customers have been paid so far, more than the company was expecting at this point, Weissland said.
A majority of those customers have decided to stick with the brand, he said.
“That’s a really good sign.”
TECH, UTILITY PRIORITIES
Weissland, who was previously the head of Audi Canada, said Volkswagen plans to spend heavily on technology and increase its utility offerings to bolster its reputation, and to move it away from being known either for the scandal or only as the maker of small cars.
“We will focus on innovations to strengthen our brand. Innovations could be within current cars and even small features of a car,” Weissland said. “And at the same time, you also follow innovations with new trends, such as autonomous driving and electrification.”
Despite the diesel scandal and VW offering only three light-truck offerings in a market that’s increasingly shunning cars, the VW brand’s sales gained 16 per cent in 2017 from a year earlier. Likewise, the VW group rose 17 per cent on the year, according to the Automotive News Data Center in Detroit.
Weissland said he sees further growth for VW Canada in 2018 as the group continues to push the Tiguan utility vehicle and is hopeful about others.
“I’m very optimistic about the new Jetta because the car, the product, is amazing, even if the segment is declining,” he said.
Volkswagen brand sales in Canada are up 35.2 per cent through the first three months of 2018.
Long-term, Weissland said his goal is to position Volkswagen for success in Canada as vehicle technology advances and as consumer tastes in products and the purchasing process change.
“I didn’t come here to just keep them doing what we have done. Over the next few years, there are so many challenges that we have out there. I want to make sure that we’re prepared for them and that we are prepared to step out of our comfort zone.”