German car group bosses questioned

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German car group bosses questioned

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The executives of the German automotive groups attended the National Assembly audit held in Yeouido on Thursday. From left, BMW Korea Group CEO Kim Hyo-joon, Audi Korea CEO Johannes Thammer, Volkswagen Korea CEO Thomas Kuehl and Mercedes-Benz Korea CEO Dimitris Psillakis. [NEWSIS]

The heads of the Korean operations of the four leading German automotive groups were bombarded with harsh criticism by lawmakers when they appeared for the National Assembly’s annual audit on Thursday.

The executives of the German automakers were summoned by lawmakers following Volkswagen’s emissions-rigging scandal, which has built mistrust in German vehicles as well as complaints of poor after-services by import car suppliers in Korea.

Volkswagen Korea CEO Thomas Kuehl, Audi Korea CEO Johannes Thammer, Mercedes-Benz Korea CEO Dimitris Psillakis and BMW Group Korea CEO Kim Hyo-joon showed up at Yeouido as witnesses for the audit hearing. Audi is under the bigger Volkswagen Group along with another 11 brands, including premium brands such as Bugatti, Lamborghini, Porches and Bentley.

The lawmakers’ criticism was immediately directed to Volkswagen Korea for rigging its emission systems.

“According to AP’s report, a minimum of 16 people and as much as 94 people died in the U.S. from the pollution created by the emissions-rigged diesel vehicle from Volkswagen,” Kim Gyeong-hyeop, a New Politics Alliance for Democracy lawmaker, said at the auditing. “I believe that in Korea, where there is a higher population density than in the U.S., selling cars that are rigged is an act of murder.”

Lee Yoon-seok of the same party asked why it took the German automaker 20 days to apologize for the rigged emissions systems that have damaged Korean consumers’ trust in German companies.

“You said you would start recalling the vehicles next year, but are there no other measures that you plan to take regarding this incident?” Yoon asked.

Kuehl said it took time for the automaker to assess the situation and added that they are working closely with related government departments and plan to announce results soon.

At the hearing, the German automakers were questioned over the controversy surrounding complaints of poor customer service, including excessive charges for maintenance and repair as well as mistreatment of customers.

Mercedes-Benz Korea drew attention last month when a video posted on YouTube showed an angry customer in Gwangju smashing a 209 million won ($180,000) luxury Benz S63 AMG with his golf club, clearly dissatisfied with the after-service. The video went viral.

The customer, who leased the car in March, claimed the engine had suddenly stopped in the middle of the road on three different occasions. In one incident, the car stopped in an overpass while his pregnant wife and five-year-old son were in the car.

Despite his complaints, the driver claimed he was ignored. He said that under the contract, the driver can change the vehicle when the vehicle has problems three times.

Meanwhile, it has been reported that Volkswagen since Wednesday has sent a notification to its dealers not to sell four of its models that are in question - the Passat 2.0 TDI, Tiguan, Beetle and CC. A similar notification halting sales has been issued in the U.S. and Europe.

The Tiguan was the bestselling imported brand last month after selling 771 units. Audi A6 35 TDI came in second with 661 units, followed by Mercedes-Benz E220 Blutech with 609 units.


BY LEE HO-JEONG, YIM JI-SOO [lee.hojeong@joongang.co.kr]

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