5 LEMONS PUT VW 1ST IN TEXAS RANKING

Volkswagen of America officials have clenched jaws over a report released by the Texas Department of Transportation that lists the German automaker as having the highest lemon index in the state for 1993.

The report shows the state ordered VW to buy back five vehicles out of a total of 74 forced buybacks industrywide last year, trailing Chevrolet-Geo with 22 and Ford Division and GMC with seven each. Dodge bought back five vehicles.

'This is absolutely unfair,' says VW spokesman Tony Fouladpour. 'They took a year when we had a shortage of cars, and our market share was down; that to me is why the report is flawed.'

Texas' lemon law went into effect in 1983. It provides for a state-run arbitration panel to mediate complaints between consumers and manufacturers.

The lemon index for each manufacturer was obtained by dividing the manufacturer's share of lemons in Texas by its market share in the state.

Volkswagen had a 0.04 share in Texas last year, second lowest to Alfa Romeo with a 0.01 share.

David Brunke, assistant director for consumer affairs at the state transportation department, admits that a low market share can adversely affect an automaker's index. He says Volkswagen's index could have been better had the automaker settled more frequently with its complainants.

'If Volkswagen had voluntarily repurchased, their index would have been much lower,' Brunke says. That's because vehicles that are voluntarily bought back are not included in the index. 'Many other companies are a lot more proactive than Volkswagen,' Brunke says.'

There were 1,093 complaints filed in Texas last year. Of that number, the state department ordered manufacturers to buy back 74 vehicles, up from 59 in 1992.

More than 70 percent of the complaints were settled amicably without a hearing.

'The Big 3 have a lot of complaints filed,' Brunke says, 'but they settle more. If you're smart, you can have a low lemon index.'

The state forced VW to buy back:

A 1990 Corrado

A 1990 Fox GL

A 1991 Jetta

Two 1991 Passats. Problems ranged from the engine to air conditioning and heating.

'They're talking about five vehicles over a three-year model span,' Fouladpour said. 'They're looking at market share, but it wasn't even '93 cars that qualified.'

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