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China consumer rights show slams Volkswagen again

Annual program on state-run TV is known for finding fault with high-profile multinationals

China Central Television faulted Volkswagen for its handling of engine defects. Pictured here is a scene from the state-run broadcaster's 2018 consumer day show.

DALIAN, China -- Volkswagen once again came under fire in China's annual consumer watchdog television show in what some saw as an attempt to single out the country's top-selling automaker to the benefit of Chinese brands.

China Central Television (CCTV) airs the program, known as "315 Gala," every year for World Consumer Rights Day on March 15 to expose problems with companies' services and products.

VW was shamed again this year -- it made an appearance in 2015 -- over defective engine drain valves in its Touareg sport utility vehicle. This problem causes water to pool in the engine, sometimes to the point where the car no longer starts.

When the defect first came to light, local VW dealers reportedly told car owners that fixing it was their responsibility. The show said that the German automaker began agreeing to repair the valves last summer but did not issue a recall until earlier this month -- a response the program called insufficient.

VW was not the only target of criticism. Some Chinese companies were also shamed for imitating major brands and faking drink ingredients. Investment frauds that prey on older people were also exposed.

Consumer spending is growing in China as income levels rise. Retail sales of consumer goods climbed 10.2% in 2017 to 36.6 trillion yuan ($5.79 trillion) as the Chinese government works to shift from a manufacturing-based economy to a consumption-led one.

But new-car sales, which have driven consumption along with online shopping, grew just 3% last year, down from 13.7% in 2016. Amid the slowdown, Beijing is supporting the development of the domestic car industry. Some believe that the criticism of VW is an attempt to encourage car buyers to choose Chinese brands.

The show began as an effort to protect consumers but has tended to bash foreign companies with successful Chinese operations in recent years. Nissan Motor, Nikon and Apple are among its past targets.

The program has made some missteps recently. Last year, it faulted the operator of the Muji store chain, Japan-based Ryohin Keikaku, for allegedly selling food in China made in parts of Japan that have been subject to an import ban since the Fukushima nuclear disaster. But the report confused where the products were made with the location of the company's headquarters.

Rumors have circulated that CCTV solicits money and advertising in exchange for canceling negative reports about companies. Some Chinese consumers complain that the show has political undertones and lacks fairness, saying that attacks on foreign companies will not make Chinese ones better.

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