LAS VEGAS -- Volkswagen brand chief Herbert Diess vowed to “redefine” the automaker’s beleaguered brand identity in the U.S. and pledged to boost production to support U.S. sales this year, but dealers say several issues remained unresolved after VW’s make meeting at the National Auto Dealers Association convention on Saturday.
The 90-minute meeting marked a cease-fire in VW’s strained relationship with its U.S. dealers. Dealers say they came away convinced VW would continue to pursue the objectives championed by former VW of America CEO Michael Horn, even without any clear signs of how VW planned to rebuild its reputation with customers and regulators in the wake of the emissions crisis.
Citing a government gag order, Diess and other executives offered no details about technical fixes for the diesel crisis or compensation for consumers, attendees said. Neither did they discuss the prospect of settlement talks with dealers, who on Friday formed a special committee to lead negotiations with VW on compensation for losses incurred by dealers since the scandal erupted in September.
Instead, VW’s executives stuck mostly to the product talking points, reaffirming longstanding plans to launch two key crossovers next year and pledging to boost production of some models to support sales in 2016, according to dealers who attended.
Some dealers looked at those comments as a reassuring sign, but others felt the executives missed an opportunity to show that they grasped the severity of the crisis facing some dealers and the brand itself.
“I would title the meeting ‘We’re working on it,’ " said Steve Kalafer, owner of the 17-franchise Flemington Car & Truck Country group of dealerships, which includes a VW store in Flemington, New Jersey. “There were no promises other than broad statements that we’re working on it and we’re doing our best. This is nothing more than more of the same.”
There were apologies, but they were “somewhat muted,” Kalafer said. “I think they’re tired of apologizing.”