- Volkswagen might want to improve their customer service somewhat.
Remember a time when not everything imaginable was tied to a monthly subscription service? These days, everything from your TV to your car needs some kind of subscription.
Yes, even your car. Manufacturers have started to ask for a monthly payment for things like seat heating, GPS navigation, or even simple engine power.
Car subscription features don’t just frustrate gearheads. We recently got a particularly horrifying example of how they can backfire.
A pair of crooks stole a Volkswagen car from a woman in Libertyville, Illinois. The criminals attacked the poor woman and took off with her 2021 VW Atlas — with her two-year-old still in the vehicle.
The good news is that the Atlas has a built-in tracking feature in it. The bad news was that its subscription had expired — and VW refused to let the cops use it until someone paid for it.
There’s a silver lining to the story. By the time the police forked out the cash in desperation, the Atlas had already been spotted with good old-fashioned human eyes.
The police rescued the uninjured child, and although the mother remains in the hospital, she is in stable condition. But none of that is thanks to VW and its tracking system.
Assault and Battery
The kidnapping happened on February 23. At the time, the 34-year-old mother-of-two had just returned home with her kids, said Lake County IL Sheriff’s Office in a statement.
She took one of her children inside, but before she could return for her 2-year-old, a white BMW pulled up into her driveway. A tall, thin man in a gray hoodie jumped out and attempted to get into the Volkswagen Atlas.
The mother attempted to stop the man and save her child, but he battered her to the ground. Then, he got into the Atlas and both cars sped off.
Before losing consciousness, the woman was able to call 911. The sheriff’s deputies showed up as fast as they could.
Pay Up. Period.
The deputies immediately began attempting to locate the stolen VW. We can only imagine how delighted they were when they realized the car was equipped with Car-Net, VW’s remote tracking and vehicle control system.
That should make finding the car a piece of cake, right? How wrong they were.
The deputies called VW but received a grim reply.
“Volkswagen Car-Net would not track the vehicle with the abducted child until they received payment to reactivate the tracking device in the stolen Volkswagen,” the sheriff’s office said.
No matter how much the deputy pleaded, the representative on the other end of the phone wouldn’t budge. The system wouldn’t come back on until somebody paid the $150 subscription fee.
So, what were the deputies to do? What else — they had no choice but to find a credit card and purchase the GPS subscription.
“The detective had to work out getting a credit card number and then call the representative back to pay the $150. At that time, the representative provided the GPS location of the vehicle,” Deputy Chief Christopher Covelli told Chicago Sun-Times.
Ironically, though, by that point the information was useless. A pair of human eyes had already found the Atlas.
While the cops were trying to find a credit card to pay VW their subscription fee, a business owner in Waukegan called 911. They told the responder that they’d just seen two vehicles enter the establishment’s parking lot and kick a small child out of one car.
The description of the child-carrying vehicle matched the beaten woman’s VW Atlas. The deputies hurried to the reported location — and found the child, scared and confused, but luckily unharmed.
A while later, they also found the VW.
“Sheriff’s deputies located the stolen Volkswagen in a parking lot near Casmir Pulaski and Route 43. The vehicle will be thoroughly processed for trace evidence,” the sheriff’s office said.
They didn’t mention whether tracking data from VW helped find the car. We can probably assume that even if it did, it didn’t matter.
The child’s mother, meanwhile, went to a hospital. According to the sheriff’s office, she has needed “some medical procedures” but her condition continues to improve.
‘Serious Breach of the Process’
But can it really be VW’s actual policy to never activate their tracker system without a subscription — even when law enforcement asks for it? According to the company, no.
“Volkswagen has a procedure in place with a third-party provider for Car-Net Support Services involving emergency requests from law enforcement. They have executed this process successfully in previous incidents,” the company told Ars Technica.
“Unfortunately, in this instance, there was a serious breach of the process. We are addressing the situation with the parties involved,” VW added.
Let’s hope “addressing the situation” means somebody is about to get fired.