Nothing to worry about
- Rey Gamboa (The Philippine Star) - October 6, 2015 - 10:00am

I’m sure many of you are already aware of the controversial issue that the international Volkswagen Group (VW) is currently embroiled in. For those who are not, a brief background is in order. It involves the issuance to the Volkswagen Group of a Notice of Violation of the Clean Air Act by the United States Environmental Protection Agency for activating emission controls for Volkswagen, Audi, Skoda and Seat TDI (Turbocharge Direct Injection) diesel engines for 2009 through 2015 model years only during laboratory tests thereby making their emission levels legally acceptable and in compliance to mandated Euro 6 standards.

Former Volkswagen Group CEO Martin Wintercorn, who resigned soon after the disclosure of the discrepancy, readily admitted this. Consequently the Volkswagen Group announced that they would be spending US$7.3 to rectify the emission issues and to refit 11 million automobiles and commercial vehicles involved.  

In anticipation of possible apprehensions from present and prospective Volkswagen owners in the country, despite far from being a possible safety concern, Volkswagen Philippines, headed by its president, John Philip “JP” Orbeta immediately released a statement relevant to the emission issue, which we quote here.

“Volkswagen Philippines has just received official information from Volkswagen AG that all vehicles distributed and sold by Volkswagen Philippines are not affected by the particular software used in diesel engines. We at Volkswagen Philippines sincerely apologize to all our customers for the undue stress and inconvenience this issue may have caused. All vehicles distributed and sold by Volkswagen Philippines comply with Philippine emissions regulations and standards. Volkswagen Philippines highly appreciates the continued trust and confidence provided by the Filipino consumers to the Volkswagen brand.”

My “two cents worth” about the issue, which I shared in an intimate talk with Volkswagen Philippines executives, Klaus Schadewald and Franz Decloedt is that this may not be an issue at all with the local market considering that, first, from the point of view of the models in question being not in actuality within the claimed emission level, which is Euro 6, such level is not even for implementation in the Philippines yet, plus emission in general, with the exception of visible smoke belching, is sadly not that much of a big deal in the country. Second, the Volkswagen issue is not, nor even near to being a safety issue, which sadly too, many in the market are not really so keen about considering that some models, despite having some rumored safety issues are still being gobbled up in the market. These may not be to our market’s credit but they are realities that we cannot deny.

The issue here is most probably more on Volkswagen’s trustworthiness after its admitted fraudulent claim. But then again, with the Volkswagen brand being iconic in this country with its long trusted, proven, memorable and close to romantic experience with the “Beetle,” again it may not be an issue at all too.

Another good thing going for VW in the Philippines is the quality of the lineup of models that it’s bringing to our local shores. Pricey they are I would agree. But then, if I correctly understood what VW Philippines amiable top honcho, JP Orbeta, would sometimes quip, “…top quality doesn’t normally come cheap, yet VW automobiles are not that expensive.”    

With full confidence

Right after the Volkswagen issue broke out in the news I immediately called up the very efficient “go to” lady for all media concerns of VW Philippines, Ms. Timmy Naval-De Leon to find out if their first ever major ‘media ride and drive’ scheduled a few days after would still push through. And with the aura of full confidence she said over the phone, “Of course sir, there’s no reason for us to cancel it. It would push through as planned and scheduled. And after your long absence we are all looking forward to have you with us.”

Rightly so, last September 29, after not being in most auto industry events and test drives, I joined one of the longest media ride and drive events covering close to 1,000 kilometers. The limited media group invited for the event was seen off by Volkswagen Philippines president and CEO, Philip “JP” Orbeta, who enviously missed the trip for a well-deserved, doctor-dictated rest.

Though we had to wait for some journalists who came late, during his send off JP gamely remarked, “We really appreciate your effort to get up so early, and set aside days of your busy work week for us.” The affable VW Philippines top honcho hastened to follow up, “But I assure you, this exciting trip will be truly worth your while, because in the next three days you will experience the best of our flagship SUV in the best possible driving environment suited for this class of vehicle.”

We started from the Volkswagen showroom in Bonifacio Global City (BGC) to Baguio City, the country’s ‘summer capital’ in Benguet Province via the landslides poked Kennon Road. It continued on the second day to rustic Sagada town in Mountain Province and back to Baguio City traveling through the very challenging uphill, downhill, twisty and mostly narrow Halsema Highway. The vehicle on test drive was the Touareg, the luxury SUV that’s named after a tough tribe of nomads, which Volkswagen first rolled out in 2002.  

Using the Touareg Sport Edition, which is powered by a 3.0L V6 Common Rail Turbo Direct Injection (TDI) diesel engine that delivers maximum output of 245 ps at 3,800-4,400 rpm and maximum torque of 550 Nm at 1,750-2,750 rpm, the test drive was aimed to show its mettle during the most challenging and punishing portions of the trip. 

Aside from the famed or sometimes considered infamous Kennon Road, due to it being landslide prone with menacingly sharp twisty curves, the Halsema Highway was also set as the stage to demonstrate the Touareg’s distinctive and remarkable driving and riding features. With a peak elevation of 7,400 feet above sea level, this scenic yet very challenging highway has the country’s highest point and reputedly one of the most dangerous highways in the world that requires unbroken driver concentration and a vehicle that has both off and on-road capabilities.   

During a short but detailed pre-test drive briefing, the following performance-enhancing features were presented to the motoring media.

* The 4MOTION Permanent All Wheel Drive that distributes power to all four wheels as required, ensuring optimum traction on almost every surface, even in adverse weather conditions. The Air Suspension maintains the smooth ride on all driving terrains. 

* The Adaptive Chassis Control, also enhanced by the Air Suspension, adapts damping control and shock absorption rate to the road conditions and driving style required, whether it be Sport, Comfort or Normal.

* Climbing ability of 45 degrees, a wading depth of 580 mm, a ground clearance of 300 mm and a lateral inclination of 35 degrees.

* Safety features that include; Electromechanical Speed-sensitive Power Steering, ABS with EBD, Driver Alert System, 8-Channel Park Distance Control, Rear Assist rear view camera, 9 SRS airbags, assuring every passenger protection if collisions from any angle did occur, to name some.

And after an accumulated 20 hours of driving or riding the Volkswagen Touareg Sport Edition we undeniably experienced almost everything that was claimed this remarkable SUV could do or would have. I said almost because even if we experienced driving under pouring rain in inclined and slippery roads, there were no floodwaters or river to cross. But having experiencing all the super features, wading 550 mm of water would most probably be a piece of cake. After the ultra long but successful test drive, I’m beginning to wonder if the Volkswagen Touareg can fly.

Hey, JP, tell us, can it fly?

Another “test drive till you drop” festival

The stage is again being set for another ‘multi-brand test fest’ where all those planning to buy their first or next car can gather in a most accessible venue and conveniently compare all the notable brand new vehicles available in the market today before finally deciding on what to own.

The 4-day Auto Focus Pre-Christmas Test Drive Festival starts November 12 (Thursday) up to November 15 (Sunday) again at the Mall of Asia Concert Grounds.

The always eagerly awaited event shall have Isuzu Philippines offering the Crosswind, DMax and the fast-selling MU-X for the public to try. Mitsubishi Philippines will have the Strada, Mirage and the Mirage G4 for test drive. Toyota Motor Philippines will have you experience driving the Wigo, Vios, Innova, Avanza, HiLux and the FJ Cruiser. The Hyundai tents will have the i20 Cross Sport, All-New Tucson, Genesis Coupe, Accent, Grand Santa Fe and the Sonata for you to try out. Ford Philippines have the Fiesta, Escape, Focus, Explorer, Expedition, Mustang and the All-New Everest in their remarkable array of models for test drive while Peugeot have lined up the 3008, 5008, 508, 301 and the 208 GTT for the auto enthusiasts and car buyers for the public’s driving experience. We are still waiting for the line up of test drive vehicles from Lexus, Mazda, Volkswagen, Nissan, Honda and Suzuki.

Save the dates—November 12 to November 15, when you test drive till you drop.

Happy Motoring!!!

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