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China Volkswagen owners protest over automaker’s recall

Volkswagen Group faces nationwide protests in China after car owners were unsatisfied with its handling of a recall to fix a possible suspension defect.

The automaker will call back 581,090 New Sagitar and Beetle vehicles in its No. 1 market to affix metal plates to the rear torsion crank axle, which will stabilize the vehicles and emit warning noises in case of cracks, it said this month. The axle is safe and installing the metal inlays is like “providing a double assurance,” Soh Weiming, Volkswagen China’s executive president, said Oct. 24.

Unconvinced car owners protested on Sunday at VW dealerships in major Chinese cities such as Shanghai and Shenzhen. Some held banners condemning the automaker for being “unconscionable” and others distributed flyers describing their fear of driving the cars. A poster circulating on Tencent Holdings Ltd.’s QQ social-media service urged Sagitar owners to stage another round of protests in 100 cities on Nov. 9.

“It’s like a ticking time bomb,” said Dai Dushi, a 36-year-old businessman who took part in the protest at a Shanghai dealership. “I’m constantly afraid the rear suspension will break and my family and I will get hurt, especially when we are traveling at high speeds.”

The car owners demanded the automaker replace the rear suspension or refund buyers. In rare cases, it is possible that a rear-side or rear-end impact results in bending or breakage of the rear torsion crank axle, Volkswagen said in an email on Oct. 26. Drivers have no reason to worry about the bending or breaking of the axle if a vehicle doesn’t experience such an impact, it said.

Besides installing the metal plates in affected vehicles, Volkswagen will offer a 10-year guarantee as a goodwill gesture to fix any rear torsion crack axle damaged in New Sagitar and Beetle cars included in the recall, it said Oct. 25. The company apologized for the recall, which will begin in February.

A group of Volkswagen owners, questioning the safety of existing suspension in their vehicles, enlisted Beijing-based Jingsh Law Firm to represent them. Among the clients, 53 said the rear suspension of their New Sagitar cars is out of shape, or has peeling or cracked paint, Jingsh said Oct. 21. Most Volkswagen cars that have problems with rear suspension weren’t involved in accidents or hadn’t been hit as the company described, Jingsh, which represents at least 340 New Sagitar users, Jingsh said in the statement.

“Our clients found Volkswagen’s explanation unacceptable,” Jingsh said on Sunday.

Volkswagen also is recalling cars in the U.S. to fix the same suspension issue, for a total of 1.02 million vehicles in the two countries, it said Oct. 17. Its latest recall in China comes two months after consumer complaints prompted the nation’s quality inspector to begin an investigation. In March 2013, the automaker called back 384,181 vehicles in the country to replace defective gearboxes, after state broadcaster China Central Television featured owner complaints about cars equipped with Volkswagen’s proprietary gearbox technology.

China is key to VW’s goal of boosting global sales. In the first nine months group sales in the market rose 15 percent to 2.72 million, accounting for more than a third of the automaker’s global unit sales of 7.4 million in the same period.