FOR the first time in my life, I’m struggling to sell a Volkswagen.
Much has been committed to print and broadcast over the past few weeks about the VW Group emissions scandal. Much of it, however, has been hot air, if you’ll pardon the pun.
But what I wasn’t expecting – and maybe a few of you are surprised by this, too – is the effect it has had on the general car-buying public.
For years, a Volkswagen was a quick sell. Even a worn-out, dishevelled example could be sold on fairly easily on the basis that it was perceived, at least, to be a better alternative than an ordinary workaday banger.
But now, it seems, buyers are staying away in their droves. It’s not just me, either. I’ve been talking to other local dealers about it, and they, too, are struggling. At my local auction the other week, a Passat with the ‘cheat’ engine drove in and out of the hall without a bid. And while the trade books are doing their best to tell us that Volkswagen residual values aren’t in the slightest bit impacted by what’s going on out there, the evidence within the trade would suggest otherwise. After all, let’s face it, most of the time when a smart-looking Golf rocks up in an auction hall, you have to fight off the assembled dealers with sticks.
I’ve got one on my forecourt at the moment – a 2006 Mk 5 TDI in No-Imagination Silver, dark grey trim, nice upper mid-spec with climate, nav and decent tunes. At £2,995, it’s certainly cheap enough, and is the kind of car that just a few weeks ago, would have flown off my forecourt like a carrier pigeon.
I’ve had it three weeks, and I haven’t taken a single call. That’s not normal.
The irony here is that the car in question isn’t even affected by the VW emissions scandal. It’s the old Pumpe Duse engine, which is as dirty as a rugby club night out and never pretended to be anything but. Back in its heyday, it was a cracking engine, which had punters clamouring to get behind the wheel despite its tendency to make more racket than a council estate hen do. Those thick, chunky VW body panels and plastics were very effective at drowning out its 40-a-day throatiness. In terms of exhaust emissions, it was as pleasant as a post-curry fart, and in terms of nitrous oxide, which is the source of all the Volkswagen hot air, it was never even tested. Such regulations didn’t exist back then.
So, all of a sudden, my Golf has become somebody else’s bargain, which is rather annoying. After all, the ownership experience will be no different for its next owner. The road tax won’t go up, there’ll be no problem insuring it, it’s no more likely to break down than it was two months ago and, chances are, it’ll be as durable and well-made as Golfs always have been, except, maybe, for the corrosion-prone Mk 3.
Or so I thought. But then I came around to a savvier way of thinking… I did the same thing a few years ago when Vauxhall Corsas were spontaneously combusting on BBC’s Watchdog, as people tend to walk away quickly when there’s a high-profile recall in the offing.
In 2008, or whenever it was, I waited for values of Corsas to hit rock bottom, and I bought about a dozen of the things. I knew each would be mended for free by my local, friendly Vauxhall dealer who, ironically, was probably the very same person who chucked the thing out to auction in the first place, and I could stockpile them until the situation blew over.
Three or four months later, it had done, and on each of those Corsas I made myself at least a clear grand’s worth of profit. So this week and next, while the rest of the trade panics itself into a corner and the punters continue to stay away, I’ll be buying up cut-price Golfs and Passats and parking them out the back until their heyday returns.
Consider, for example, that in VW’s case there’s nothing as scary as a car fire to deal with (that is, after all, Vauxhall’s specialist subject). There’s a big lawsuit from a bunch of stroppy Americans that has wiped billions off the company’s share value, there’s most likely an enormous fine in the offing, and there’s the reputation of one of the world’s most trusted brands in absolute tatters because, putting it plainly, they lied. Which, given the reputation they previously had, would be like finding out your wife of 30 years had had not just one, but several, love affairs.
Volkswagens, on the other hand? Well, once all the guff dies down, I’m pretty sure that the brand will return to its position as one of those most loved by people like me, who know they can flog them all day long to punters.
If only everything in life was as reliable…
On SuperUnleaded.com: Want a Ford GT? Why not print one?