German carmaker Volkswagen will recall 384,000 vehicles sold in China due to gearbox problems, the top quality watchdog said on Wednesday.
Starting April 2, Volkswagen's sales subsidiary and two joint ventures will recall vehicles made or imported since December 2008, according to a statement by the General Administration of Quality Supervision, Inspection and Quarantine.
The models include the imported Scirocco, Golf Variant and Audi A3, and locally produced models such as New Bora, Golf A6, Sagitar, Magotan, Touran, Lavida and New Passat.
The German auto giant admitted on Wednesday it had filed the recall plan with the administration.
"In isolated cases, an electronic malfunction in the control unit or a lack of oil pressure inside the gearbox mechatronics may result in a power interruption," the company said in a statement.
The steering and braking are unaffected, so drivers can remain in control and maneuver to a stop, it said.
Components in faulty gearboxes will be replaced and the latest software upgrades installed for free.
Volkswagen said that owners of affected vehicles will be asked by authorized dealers to schedule an appointment for inspection and repair.
Cheng Jie, a Chongqing resident who bought a Golf A6 1.4T in 2010, said his car has malfunctioned twice.
"The car suddenly lost power and stopped once when I was driving on a highway," he said, adding that he had gone to the car dealer and asked for a replacement gearbox but was refused. The dealer said the gearbox had not caused the malfunction.
"I'll go to the dealer and have my car fixed on April 2," he said. "I'm worried that similar problems will happen again. It's too dangerous."
Chen Deyu, who works at Haiwenjie, a Volkswagen dealership in Beijing, said Volkswagen had not yet notified them about the recall.
"Some customers have called us about the replacement of gearbox components," he said. "We'll contact customers who bought the affected cars when we get a message from the carmaker."
Dealers will receive a formal notice about the operation of the recall within two days, a spokesperson for the German company's joint venture in Shanghai was quoted as saying by The Mirror.
Analysts believe the recall is a public relations blow for Volkswagen in the world's largest auto market. The company sold 2.81 million cars in China last year, an increase of 24 percent from 2011.
"Volkswagen has been plagued by the gearbox issue for about a year in China, and it has finally conceded to a recall," said Namrita Chow, an analyst at consulting firm IHS Automotive.
"People will judge Volkswagen based on the service they receive and the quality of the vehicles once they are returned to owners. This will be the real test for Volkswagen," she said.
The recall may cost the auto giant about 3 billion yuan ($483 million), Xinhua News Agency reported.
The recall was prompted by a demand from the quality watchdog and comes after China Central Television aired a program on March 15 - World Consumer Rights Day - that claimed Volkswagen had been selling cars with substandard direct-shift gearbox systems, which caused acceleration problems and car accidents.
Other carmakers are also recalling or plan to recall defective products in China.
Shanghai General Motors Co will recall 5,744 Buicks and Cadillacs starting Monday because of a potential problem with the gear information transfer, which can cause a drop in the engine's braking efficiency in extreme cases.
Japanese automaker Toyota will also recall 4,400 imported FJ Cruiser cars because of seatbelt flaws. The company is busy working on a solution and will release improvement methods before April 15, Xinhua reported.
It will be Toyota's second recall this year. In January it announced it will recall 22,869 Lexus IS cars because of a wiper arm problem.
Chi Yifeng, deputy director of the China Automobile Dealers Association, said China's car recall system started in 2004, while the public's increased awareness of rights protection has prompted vehicle recalls.
Thirteen calls involving 330,000 cars were made in 2004, but between January and October last year, the quality watchdog conducted 59 recalls involving 2.75 million cars.
"The number is still much less than the number in the United States," Chi said. "That to some extent shows carmakers in China are weak in voluntary recalls and shouldering social responsibility."
In 2011, 592 recalls were made in the US involving more than 15 million cars. China conducted 85 recalls involving 1.83 million cars that year, The Mirror reported.
"In fact, Volkswagen's gearbox problems emerged last year, but it did not plan a recall until pressure from customers and the media grew," Chi said.
He said he hopes China's first regulation on recalling defective vehicles, which took effect on Jan 1, will help raise costs for carmakers that hold back on admitting defects.
The regulation requires automakers to investigate and report results to the quality watchdog if they are informed their products might be faulty. Those who hide defects face a fine of 1 to 10 percent of the value of the defective cars sold. (From China Daily)