Pressure mounts on VW's brands after it admits 1.2m UK cars affected in emissions scandal

Drivers negative view of the Volkswagen and its brands is set to hit new lows after the car manufacturer revealed 1.2m of its diesel vehicles in the UK had been rigged to cheat emissions tests.

It is the equivalent to one in ten diesel cars on the road and almost half the annual total new car sales in the country, underlining the scope of the scandal that’s rocked the automotive giant worldwide.

The admission makes the UK one of the worst countries to be hit by the scandal with the affected cars including 508,276 Volkswagen cars, 393,450 Audis, 76,773 Seats, 131,569 Skodas and 79,838 Volkswagen commercial vehicles. It now means some 11m cars worldwide are affected by the hack.

The German business plans to launch a “self-serve process” for all UK drivers to find out if their vehicle has been affected, while dealers will also be issued with the vehicle identification numbers of those affected. Additionally, affected motorists will be notified about visiting a mechanic to have their cars refitted.

However, this isn’t an official recall in the sense that it’s not an incident that could cause an unpredictable or catastrophic event likely to cause the death or injury of a driver or passenger. The emissions scandal could fall into another category that’s used to activate a recall but so far no clarity on the matter has been given. Instead, the car maker has said it will issue any affected customer with details of a process to correct their vehicles soon. In the meantime, it assured those drivers that all vehicles are “technically safe and roadworthy”.

It’s these three aspects of the Volkswagen brand, and to an extent the other brands it owns, that are suffering most when it comes to consumer trust, according to various studies. And now that the scandal has hit UK shores the decline is likely to sharpen. According to YouGov’s BrandIndex UK, Volkswagen’s brand health – a measure across index, buzz, quality, reputation and impression – dropped fast in the immediate 10 days after the scandal first came to light.

Meanwhile, marketing experts have warned that the knock to public perception toward VW’s cars caused by the revelations could spark a rethink of what the tainited brands stand for moving forward. Consumers have bought into the diesel brands because they have genuine concerns in this area and want to make a positive choice but the incident undermines that and any future claims on the contrary its marketers would like to make.

The scandal-hit Volkswagen is in rebuild mode, having replaced chief executive Martin Winterkorn after he resigned with Matthis Muller. Since emissions testing revelations broke over a week ago, the company’s share price has dived by more than 36 per cent, wiping £20bn from its value. Early indicators of the cost of the scandal, from price data firm Glass, said that the value of used Volkswagen diesel cars had dropped 2 per cent between 21 September and 25 September, against a 0.7 per cent fall in the wider British market.

Get The Drum Newsletter

Build your marketing knowledge by choosing from daily news bulletins or a weekly special.