Volkswagen Korea will issue a recall of more than 67,000 vehicles and has suspended all new car sales due to faulty warning triangles, a car accessory to warn drivers after emergency stops, a move experts here called an unprecedented precautionary measure after the firm's painful “Dieselgate” back in 2015.
The Korean unit of the German carmaker said Tuesday a total of 67,459 vehicles across seven different models will be affected by the recall. The recall schedule has not been decided yet.
“Warning triangles of Volkswagen cars imported were found that they failed to meet the minimum brightness amount advised by Korea’s road traffic act,” said an official from Volkswagen Korea.
A warning triangle is a small red triangle with a highly reflective surface that can be set up as a tripod behind the car if it makes an emergency stop on the side of the road.
According to local traffic laws, the warning device should reflect light at a minimum of 80 percent brightness when light is directed at the device from nine directions at 0.33-1.5 degree angles. The Volkswagen tripods in question were found to reflect only some 70 percent brightness.
The carmaker said if the tripod does not reflect enough light in the dark, it would fail to alert other drivers and could result in car accidents.
“Although we are not legally obligated to consider the device as part of the vehicle, it is the best way to secure safety of drivers,” the official added.
Volkswagen Korea will replace the tripods for all new vehicles and set up a recall schedule with traffic authorities for the cars already sold, the official said. The company will aim at resuming deliveries from mid-February.
The recall affects seven car models sold by the Korean unit including sport utility vehicle models Tiguan, Tiguan Allspace and Touareg, and Golf hatchback and Arteon sedan. They were produced at the firm's Mexican and German factories and had not undergone inspection there.
Volkswagen’s premium brands, Audi, Bentley and Lamborghini, are not subject to the recall because they share the same pre-delivery inspection centers here, sources said.
Earlier in the day, the carmaker's announcement caused some confusion among drivers here because the firm initially said the warning triangles were “too bright.” The company later clarified that some reflective materials on the surface didn’t work properly.
The official added that the German headquarters are carrying out a thorough safety management review, having learned from the painful emissions-cheating scandal back in 2015.
Experts say it is unprecedented for the German carmaker to take such “excessive” precautionary measures.
“Knowing that it will cause severe inconvenience for consumers, it is unreasonable for the carmaker to postpone all the car deliveries and issue recalls on all car models,” said Kim Pil-su, a car engineering professor at Daelim University.
Choi Young-suk, a smart mobility professor at Halla University, echoed his view and stressed that “after the recall, Volkswagen should make transparent its car recall rate to ensure safety for consumers.”
Choi also criticized the company for dragging its feet with the lawsuits after Dieselgate and the manipulation of fuel economy data in 2011.
The German carmaker drew ire from the public that its half-million diesel models had a “defeat device” or software in engines that changed the emissions performance when they were being tested.
The diesel cars had been certified under the EU pollution test when they were in fact producing up to 40 times the legally permitted amount of nitrogen dioxide, a pollutant, which can be linked to respiratory diseases and premature death.
A year later, Volkswagen apologized to customers and paid out approximately 32 billion euros ($34.7 billion) in fines, compensation, civil settlements and buyback schemes, as of May.
The South Korean government slapped the carmaker with 14.1 billion won ($11.4 million) in fines on some 125,000 Volkswagen cars that cheated the diesel engine emission tests in 2015. Volkswagen Korea issued the recall, citing software upgrades and gave out 1 million won coupons for customers.
On one of the three separate class action suits here against Volkswagen Korea on the diesel scandal, Seoul Central District Court ruled that the carmaker should pay back 10 percent of the purchase price to 79 customers. Another court found that it should compensate 1 million won as emotional damages to 979 customers. The appeals for all suits are still pending.