Volkswagen says its drive to boost quality is showing results.
The brand has had some of the highest warranty claim rates in the U.S. auto industry. But in the past few years, the cost of repairing VW vehicles has plummeted, says Marc Trahan, head of quality at Volkswagen Group of America.
As a percentage of total sales, the brand's model year warranty costs are down 28 percent from 2012 to 2013, so far, he says. Combined with drops of 12 percent from 2011 to 2012 and 5 percent from 2010 to 2011, claims are down about 40 percent.
Trahan declined to provide exact figures, but the savings at VW track closely with industrywide trends. Warranty costs equaled 1.9 percent of U.S. sales for the average automaker in 2012, down from a peak of 3.3 percent in 2009, data released in April by the trade publication Warranty Week show.
VW's lower warranty costs have accompanied a decision to give Volks-wagen Group of America more autonomy over quality problems. Trahan meets regularly with managers from VW assembly plants in Puebla, Mexico, and Chattanooga and can open the company's pocketbook to iron out minor problems with vehicles the plants build for the United States.
Trahan must run these changes past top executives in Wolfsburg, Germany, he said, but "it's more about telling them what we've done than asking for permission."
Still, VW lags in quality. The brand ranked 23rd of 33 marques last month in J.D. Power and Associates' annual Initial Quality Study, which tracks problems in the first 90 days of ownership. VW had 120 problems per 100 vehicles in the survey, seven more than average.