Bremi Auto-Elektrik, a small, family-owned German supplier, is working overtime to make ignition coils to replace faulty ones on 850,000 VW group cars worldwide.
Bremi's German employees are working three shifts a day, six days a week, said Steve Keyes, director of corporate communications for VW of America.
Failed coils have brought complaints from owners, particularly in the USA.
Bremi, based in Kerspe, Germany, is the supplier of coils on VW gasoline engines. Cars affected include Audi, VW, Seat and Skoda models with 1.8-liter, four-cylinder, V-5, V-6 and W-8 engines in the 2001 and 2002 model years.
VW officials declined to name a second supplier that is pitching in to help make the replacement coils.
Jens Bobsien, VW spokesman in Wolfsburg, Germany, said VW is not calling the action a recall.
"It's a service campaign," he said. "We are changing the ignition coils. At the moment we change coils that are bad."
About 530,000 of the affected cars are in North America, he said. VW is informing those who may be affected and fixing the problem at no cost to customers, he said.
He declined to specify the cost of the repair campaign to Volkswagen. VW spokesmen also declined to say if VW would try to recover any costs from Bremi.
Bremi is the operating arm of Ernst Bremicker GmbH, founded in 1927. The company employs 325 people and also has factories in Dornitz and Munchhausen, Germany.
Despite repeated phone calls, Bremi executives declined to comment.
Bremi's annual revenue is an estimated E40 million, said Auto Business, a consulting company based in Stamford, England.
Sources say Bremi had problems with the insulation material of the coils. If this special plastic becomes brittle, spark plug failure can result. The bar ignition coil is located above the spark plug connector.
The design of the VW engines requires one ignition coil per spark plug, so VW may have to replace as many as 3.5 million coils.
"We know that some ignition coils installed in our cars are not up to our high quality standards," said VW of America President Gerd Klaus. "We are determined to do the right thing for our customers. The right thing to do is to fix every single car with these coils by replacing them whether they are broken yet or not. That is exactly what we will do as soon as we have the parts."
But getting the parts quickly enough has been a problem so far. That's why Bremi has added overtime shifts at its German plants.
The problems have angered motorists in the USA. Since the coils fail one at a time, some customers have been inconvenienced more than once for the same car. The Boston Globe February 1 edition gives a sampling:
"I am a 73-year-old widow now towed three times. Last Friday I waited one hour in freezing cold for a tow," wrote one reader. "VW America says no replacement of the fourth coil until it fails. I'd like to join in a class action suit - if I don't die of exposure or in an accident when the fourth coil fails."
Wrote another woman reader: "I have cried myself off the road and sworn at my car too many times. I hate my VW more than words can express. I will never buy a VW again."
Wrote a third: "The last time my coil went bad I was in front of an 18-wheeler [truck] doing 80 miles per hour and had to cut over four lanes of traffic just to get to the shoulder."
In the USA, the vehicles include cars with turbocharged 1.8-liter engines, which includes the Audi TT and A4; and the VW Golf, GTI, Jetta, New Beetle and Passat. Also included in the recall are the Passat W-8, which has VW's first eight-cylinder engine, all VWs equipped with the 2.8-liter VR6 engine, and the Audi 3.0-liter V-6 engine.
In Europe, more VW group vehicles use the engines affected. The engines are used in Skoda and Seat cars, brands not sold in the USA. European-market cars equipped with the engines include Audi A3, A4, A6 and TT; Seat Leon, Toledo and Alhambra; Skoda Octavia and Superb; and Volkswagen Bora, Golf, New Beetle, Passat and Sharan.
Ironically, VW just told US dealers at the NADA conference last week in San Francisco that it has created a post of "quality leader" in North America and is employing more field staff to sort through problems (see story Page 21). The new US staff is being assembled to uncover vehicle problems and correct them at VW factories. Stefan Ketter will lead the quality team. He was in charge of quality planning at VW's operations in Brazil.
Ralph Kisiel, Bradford Wernle, Wim Oude Weernink, Colin Whitbread and Automobilwoche contributed