Last year was a good one for the Volkswagen brand. Globally, the European powerhouse delivered 6.24 million units worldwide, an increase of 0.2% from 2017. China and North America saw declines (-2.1% and -3.0% respectively), but the VW Group’s namesake brand saw strong growth in South America (+13.1%) to offset the trade war protagonists. Even its home market of Europe saw a gain of 3.6%.

Here in Malaysia, the brand, which is represented by Volkswagen Passenger Cars Malaysia (VPCM), recorded sales of 7,001 units in 2018. That’s a 15.8% increase from the 6,536 units sold in 2017, VPCM’s first full year in charge of the brand here.

Pressed for a 2019 sales target by reporters at yesterday’s media roundtable, VPCM bosses declined to provide a figure, only saying that “sustainable growth” and continuing the momentum both in sales and after-sales is the company’s aim. VPCM MD Erik Winter hinted that double-digit growth is not sustainable growth, and 2018 figures were boosted by the unprecedented tax holiday between GST and SST eras.

The VW Arteon and Passat facelift will both arrive in 2019

Sales aside, VPCM is proud of the improvements in customer satisfaction, both in sales and after-sales. According to Volkswagen AG’s in-house Customer Experience Management (CEM) surveys, VPCM scored 4.6 in sales and 4.4 in after-sales in 2018, an increase from the previous year’s 4.46 and 4.25 points, respectively. This CS survey is used globally by VAG and respondents are asked the same questions worldwide.

VPCM’s ultimate aim is to be a five-star organisation, and we were told that the European CEM average is 4.8 to 4.9. Initiatives to improve the score include the Volkswagen Cares app (over 10,600 downloads so far, open to all but many are VW onwers), a dedicated customer care department (in-house, not outsourced), an on-site battery programme for breakdowns, and after-sales promo campaigns.

The company has also upped engagement with customers, done via social media and VW owner clubs. VPCM also hosted technology tours to educate owners about the tech in their cars. The company’s other MD, Florian Steiner, repeatedly mentioned the importance of the “human element” in after-sales communications with customers.

Volkswagen’s after-sales reputation in Malaysia is chequered, and VPCM readily admits past problems while pointing to the measures it has taken since coming in. Besides the five-year unlimited mileage factory warranty offered today, VPCM highlights a shorter claims processing time (five working days), warranty process and standards coaching for dealers, warranty claims checking to ensure repair quality, and benchmarking with the region.

Repeat repairs (same problem on the same car) are down 98% since 2014, and VPCM claims that gearbox problems have been completely resolved – we’re now at the same level as other markets. If parts are needed, Malaysia benefits from hosting the VW Group’s regional parts warehouse in Johor, and VPCM says that parts availability from the facility is 95%.

As for the brand’s dealer network, some have noticed recent outlet closures and this was confirmed by VPCM, which says that it’s part of a “consolidation of the network”. There’s also consolidation on the dealer partners’ part (in this case, FA Wagen), with improved efficiency and reduced operational costs the goal. In any case, the company says that its current count of nine 4S dealerships and 15 3S dealerships nationwide covers all regions and is sufficient for the brand’s current numbers.

VPCM will launch the Das WeltAuto pre-owned vehicle business this year

As reported, one can now buy a Volkswagen in Malaysia directly from Volkswagen AG, somewhat. Porsche Holding Salzburg (PHS) – the largest car distributor in Europe and the entity that controls VPCM – has itself entered the retail market in Malaysia with the opening of PHS Autohaus in Puchong. In 2011, the Porsche family sold PHS to Volkswagen AG, which now fully owns the retail arm. Located in Kampung Kenangan, operations commenced on May 2.

VPCM is also set to launch an official pre-owned business in Q3 2019. Named Das WeltAuto, the arm aims to offer quality pre-owned vehicles with a one-year warranty. As for new models, the Arteon flagship sedan and the facelifted Passat will arrive in the second half of the year, and VPCM is planning a farewell party for the discontinued Beetle.