Why Volkswagen needs to take more responsibility over software glitches

·3-min read
Volkswagen - Jordan Butters 
Volkswagen - Jordan Butters

There was no apology, but at least an admission from Volkswagen’s top brass that the software embodied in the new Golf Mk8 might not have worked as well as customers expected of Europe’s most popular car. The family hatchback, launched at the end of 2019, has been prone to software malfunctions that have left dealers scratching their heads at how to fix them.

The latest manifestation of this problem came earlier this year, when 56,000 Golf 8 models were recalled with infotainment and reversing camera software glitches. What’s more, the system, which is common across new models of VW’s sister marques of Seat, Audi and Skoda, has been equally problematic in those cars.

“No one would claim that the software in the Golf Mk8 or ID.3 was perfect,” said Klaus Zellmer, VW’s vice-president for sales and marketing, “but it has a lot of possibilities for the future.”

Thomas Ulbrich, vice-president of research and development, added: “Not everything worked perfectly from day one, [which] led to frustration with customers.”

Volkswagen 
Volkswagen

That’s certainly borne out by our readership; Telegraph Cars agony uncle Honest John has been deluged with complaints about the latest VW technology embodied in the latest Golf and its sister marques. Gripes include cars switching units from kilometres to miles and back without warning, along with voice controls interrupting journeys without prompting. In spite of the pandemic, Volkswagen Group sold more than five million cars last year, many of them potentially plagued with software bugs.

Nor have the problems been simply with software malfunctions, but also the touchscreen logic and design, which means even quite simple adjustments to the heating and ventilation, for example, require several touches – and the driver’s eyes away from the road for longer than seems prudent.

Volkswagen, however, seems hell bent on continuing in this direction, with Ulbrich and Zellmer claiming they were doing a “good job and setting a benchmark for the future”. In a presentation of future technology where journalists’ questions were heavily bowdlerised, they posited a near future when Volkswagen cars will update their software typically once every 12 weeks.

Volkswagen  - Dean Smith
Volkswagen - Dean Smith

They wouldn’t be drawn on the data mining they will be doing to their customer base at the same time.

That future includes fitting every new car with software capable of hiring or loaning out the vehicle, along with fitting the cars with equipment such as heated seats or steering wheel which can only be enabled when the customer pays an additional fee.

Zellmer speculated that VW Digital, the new company handling such pay on demand services, “would be capable of generating three-digit millions [of Euros]” out of its customers.

As well as earning from customers paying for functions they already have in the car, the future of Volkswagen will also include Level 4 autonomous driving by as early as 2026 if the separate Trinity project goes as planned.

Skoda Octavia glitches 
Skoda Octavia glitches

Debuting VW’s new Scaleable Systems Platform, capable of self-driving on dual carriageways and motorways for considerable periods, Trinity’s customers will buy a largely similar coupé/saloon and then up-spec its charging/range/self-driving capabilities by buying them after initial purchase.

It’s one of three new model projects (the others are Audi’s Artemis saloon and Apollon SUV programmes) that are modelled on the working practises of Californian software start-up companies.

“We are going through a transformation to beyond the car business,” said Ulbrich. “In future you will buy, lease or share cars and we will use software to give additional functions, longer range and increased performance.”

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