Volkswagen faces a growing public backlash in China over malfunctioning software in its electric vehicle ID Series — including sudden black screens and frequent internet disconnection — after a group of Chinese drivers penned an open letter to complain. The German automaker responded to Chinese media outlet Jiemian, saying that it is investigating the cause of these issues and apologizing for the inconvenience. 

Why it matters: The complaints lay bare the challenges established carmakers face in trying to transition to EV making and in particular in incorporating ever more complex driver assistance systems and other digital technology into their vehicles. 

Details: Dozens of disgruntled car owners recently published an open letter demanding SAIC-Volkswagen stop selling its China-made ID Series EVs and issue a complete repair plan to eliminate safety risks in their vehicles, Jiemian reported on Dec. 4.

  • The varied software issues reported by these owners include sudden blank screens on the dashboard and central control displays, frequent disconnection from the internet, and cases where the in-car navigation system does not work.
  • Three ID Series vehicles are reportedly affected: Volkswagen’s ID.4 sports utility vehicles, seven-seater ID.6 crossovers, and ID.3 family hatchbacks.
  • In the letter, the drivers argue that a malfunctioning in-car system poses serious safety hazards. Some drivers said they experienced all of the vehicle’s information disappearing from their in-car display screens, including driving speed and battery status.
  • In a statement sent to Jiemian, Volkswagen apologized for the inconvenience and added that it has developed corresponding solutions which will be implemented soon.
  • There were at least 30 submissions this year related to malfunctioning in-car software systems in Volkswagen EVs on 12365auto.com, a Chinese online complaint platform, according to a calculation by TechNode.
  • SAIC-Volkswagen is a joint venture between the German automaker and Chinese manufacturer SAIC, which began local production of the ID.4, the first ID. family member launched in China, in October 2020.

Context: Volkswagen reported sales of around 112,700 electric vehicles in China for the first nine months of 2022, representing an increase of 139% from a year earlier. The German carmaker expects to sell 3.3 million cars in China this year, a 14% cut from its previous target, Bloomberg reported on Nov. 22.

  • In October, Volkswagen’s software unit Cariad invested 2.4 billion euros ($2.3 billion) in China’s Horizon Robotics to strengthen its software offering.
  • Domestic automakers are riding the wave of China’s green energy transition, accounting for nearly half of the market share in the passenger EV segment as of September, according to figures from China Passenger Car Association. China recorded sales of around 4.5 million new energy vehicles, mostly all-electrics and plug-in hybrids, from January to September.

Jill Shen

Jill Shen is Shanghai-based technology reporter. She covers Chinese mobility, autonomous vehicles, and electric cars. Connect with her via e-mail: jill.shen@technode.com or Twitter: @yushan_shen