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A Volkswagen Passat sits in a Phnom Penh showroom in 2014.
A Volkswagen Passat sits in a Phnom Penh showroom in 2014. Pha Lina

Auto dealers unfazed by recalls

Local authorised dealers of two major automobile brands said yesterday that newly announced recalls of millions of vehicles by their manufacturers would not have any significant effect on the local market.

Japanese auto giant Toyota Motor Corp announced yesterday that it was recalling 3.37 million vehicles globally over possible defects involving airbags and emissions-control units, though no injuries have been linked to either issue. The most-affected models named in the recall include its Prius hybrid and Lexus CT200h. About half of the recalled vehicles were built between 2008 and 2012.

Meanwhile, Germany’s Volkswagen AG agreed this week to settle its long-running emissions scandal case for a whopping $14.7 billion. More than $10 billion of the settlement will go to fixing or buying back 475,000 diesel-engine Volkswagens – including the Beetle, Jetta, Passat and Audi A3 – that were programmed to overlook emissions of harmful nitrogen oxides.

Keo Wathenac, general manager of the customer service division of Toyota Cambodia, said vehicle recalls were a regular feature of the automotive industry and did not necessarily indicate a safety risk.

“It is normal for the manufacturer to recall vehicles to fix them when it has found any problem, even if it is a very minor issue,” he said. “It shows that we always consider first the safety of our clients and the company wants to build their trust.”

According to Wathenac, none of the Toyota models on the recall list had been officially imported into Cambodia and his company has not received any notices from the automaker’s headquarters in Japan.

However, he said it was possible that some of these vehicles had been imported unofficially from the US and sold on the grey market.

He said car owners who were concerned their vehicles were on the recall list – even those purchased through unofficial dealers – should bring their car to the Toyota Cambodia dealership for an inspection. If the model is on the recall list it will be repaired for free.

Pily Wong, CEO of Hung Hiep (Cambodia) Co Ltd, Volkswagen’s local authorised dealer, said none of the 2-litre diesel-engine models named in the Volkswagen recall had ever been officially available in Cambodia.

“Only petrol engines were launched here,” he said. “Thus none of the vehicles we sold are actually concerned by the buy-back and fix program.”

Wong pointed out that as Cambodia has no regulation on vehicle emissions and does not require testing, Volkswagen’s emissions-system tampering – though an issue in the US – had not violated any local regulations.

“In Cambodia, since there is no pollution or emissions test, Volkswagen hasn’t done anything against the rules and regulations in the territory of the Kingdom of Cambodia, therefore, no buy-back or fix program is planned for this market,” he said.

While Toyota and Volkswagen are currently under scrutiny, Seng Voeung, automotive division manager of RMA (Cambodia) Co Ltd, the authorised distributor of Ford vehicles in the Kingdom, said every major automaker has had its share of vehicle recalls.

“It is not negative thing, but rather a positive for vehicle owners . . . as it shows the company is highly responsible and seeks to always build the trust of its customers,” he said. “Most of these recalls are just to fix a tiny issue.”

Voeung added that Ford has issued a few recalls in recent years, but so far only a few vehicles have been brought to its local authorised service centre for checking.

Peter Brongers, president of the Cambodia Automotive Industry Federation (CAIF), said notification of vehicle recalls, as well as eligibility for service campaigns, were two key benefits of purchasing vehicles from authorised dealerships.

“These recall and service campaigns are standard procedure,” he said, adding that when an automaker contacts its local authorised dealer, the dealer in turn contacts the registered owner of the vehicle concerned to arrange an appointment for the maintenance or repairs.

“Grey-market imported cars have no warranty at all,” Brongers noted. “The car is imported and registered in one country and then it goes unofficially – or grey – to another country. In the system, that car is still in the original country of registration, so there is no way that the [current] owner of the car can be reached.

“Obviously this is very risky where it concerns safety campaigns,” he added.

While Toyota has ordered a recall of some models over a possibly defective airbag, Brongers claimed some of the vehicles imported to Cambodia by grey-market dealers were insurance write-offs from the US that were altered and disguised to appear as new.

“Many owners do not even realise that the car they have has no airbags,” he said. “These were removed before the car was sent to Cambodia. The owner thinks he is safe in case of accident, but he isn’t.”

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