Volkswagen Announces Free Scheduled Maintenance Program
By Kevin Miller
Volkswagen of America announced this week that they will introduce a no-charge scheduled maintenance program on all MY2009 vehicles. Called Carefree Maintenance Program, it will provide the scheduled maintenance described in each vehicle’s maintenance booklet for the length of the factory warranty (3 years/36000 miles). An additional inspection and adjustment service will be offered within the first 90 days or 6000 miles of ownership. The first available 2009 Volkswagen vehicle will be the Tiguan crossover.
Volkswagen’s press release was cleverly worded to state that all “current” Volkswagen vehicles combine the use of synthetic motor oil and state-of-the-art German engineering to require maintenance every ten thousand miles (meaning that each of those cars will get free maintenance at 10k, 20k, and 30k miles), while the service requirements of the forthcoming (Chrysler-sourced) Routan minivan will receive free scheduled maintenence at 6k, 12k, 18k, 24k, 30k, ad 36k miles. What that statement implies, then, is that the Routan does not benefit from that same state-of-the-art engineering, and will cost VW more money per vehicle in this service program. But I digress.
While no-charge maintenance has been offered by some luxury carmakers for over a decade, Volkswagen is the first to provide such an offering to the mainstream auto market. Volkswagen’s ambitious US sales goals will only be met if they are able to set themselves apart from their competition in the mainstream market, and offering free scheduled maintenance is one way to do that. Unlike warranty costs, which can vary depending on component failures, scheduled maintenance costs are known, and can easily be factored into the price of a new vehicle.
Addition of the Carefree Maintenance Program will likely cause VW to raise prices for their cars, though it is pure speculation whether the price increase will fully cover the cost of the program. If not, the program will eat into already-thin profits that are a result of the disadvantageous exchange rate between the euro and the dollar. Adding this program nudges Volkswagen ever-so-slightly toward the realm of a luxury carmaker, which could help some consumers justify spending the extra money to buy a Volkswagen rather than a competing (and usually cheaper) domestic or Asian vehicle.
On the other hand, while no-charge scheduled maintenance is nearly universal across luxury marques in the US, such a program isn’t necessarily a given. Volvo has offered such a program for nearly a decade, but to hold down vehicle price increases the program was quietly discontinued for the 2006 model year. Evidently Volvo believed the costs outweighed their lure to prospective customers. Finding out that was not the case, Volvo’s program is back for MY2008. If Volkswagen finds that their program is causing vehicle prices to be be uncompetitive with other cars in their respective segments, pulling the plug on the Carefree Maintenance Program would be an way to remove cost from their offerings.
Whatever the outcome, adding no-charge scheduled maintenance to a volume brand is an interesting idea, and it is a clever move on Volkswagen’s part. It will likely be attractive to shoppers who are wary of vehicle maintenance costs, especially for those shoppers who would otherwise avoid VW because they believe that it is more expensive to service a European car than it is to service a domestic or Asian car. If VW can get some of those shoppers (who would not have otherwise considered buying a Volkswagen) into their stores and buying their cars, the program will have been a success.
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