The slippery slope of betrayal, Volkswagen style

I’ve been a fan of Volkswagen for many years. I embrace their quirks because the cars are fun to drive. Solid, well-built, safe. The Germans know how to engineer and build cars that inspire the driver. Even my lowly VW Golf which I had for 12 years with hardly a problem in that time was inspiring. I never even had to replace the brakes. The VW Bug smiles at you on the road. How can it not make you happy just looking at it?

But there are many detractors. Many remember the days when Audis were hopelessly unreliable. Many experience electrical problems in Volkswagens of the 90s and 00s. But the passionate fans endure the glitches because the cars are so fun. They’re not ordinary, vanilla cars. They have personality.
Imagine my disappointment when I learned that a brand I loved admitted they cheated. Not a little cheat. But a blatant, deliberate effort over years all in the name of making a buck. The cars look so innocent. I almost went for one of the TDIs. They’re really good cars. Except for now they’re not so much because they cheat. They’re liars these cars. Marketed as ‘Clean Diesels’ – great performance while being environmentally conscious – is a farce. That they asked for a green seal in the U.S. in 2011 shows their arrogance.
It takes years to build trust but a moment to shatter it. A few smart people at Volkswagen torched the brand. Yet many great people work for the company. In Wolfsburg, generations of families have built their careers and bet their futures on being a part of VW. And that is all threatened because some smart engineers who thought they knew better than anyone everyone else found a way to cover their tracks. To avoid forgoing years of investment in new engines by engineering a way to cheat on the emissions tests. Perhaps it was pressure from their bosses or fear of failure that motivated them. Betting they wouldn’t get caught. But they did.
They could have adopted – and almost did – Daimler’s Bluetec technology which likely could have avoided the ‘need’ to cheat. And now we have the nasty aftermath that could cost many innocent VW employees their jobs, upending families and damage a company town.

The dominos are falling. It’s a slippery slope.

So what now? They need dramatic change and fast to restore faith in the company. They need transparency. And they need to buy back every single car or offer to replace it with an equivalent model. Unless they can engineer a fix that retains the promised performance and fuel economy. It’s looking they’re opting for a fix which looks like it will take 10 hours per car and won’t begin until some time next year. But now 480,000 people will have to make time to drop their cars off to do so.

Was it worth it Volkswagen? I think not. And right now I think you don’t think it was either. But how many other companies are or will take such actions to sell their wares? Others make think they’re different. The slope is slippery.


  1. Harald Steindl says:

    It is yet to be seen, if the fix, whatever it might be, really fixes the problem in total.
    I am neither German nor do I defend cheating of any sort but business got ever dirtier over the last years.
    One could (and quite a few in fact do!) argue, that the regulations for Diesel engines have been set to very high (maybe not even realistically achievable) levels on purpose by the US. Matter of fact is, that the US car industry does not have anything serious to hold against the Diesel trend outside of the US. Considering the huge investments into Tesla via tax breaks and the “Tesla hype” (nothing against it in general) this can be also seen quite simply as a trans atlantic economy fight much like Airbus vs. Boeing.
    As long as so called “Coal rolling” is allowed as a “expression of personal freedom” and the very same people claming VW to be the bad boys dont act against it with at least the same enthusiasm, the whole VW Diesel-Gate discussion smells quite phoney.

  2. Patrick says:

    Good thoughts Harald. I’m watching this with interest because I’ve long enjoyed VW – and German – cars in general. I don’t have any facts regarding whether the emissions standards are too stringent or not but Mercedes with their Bluetec seems to be able to achieve them. And German car makers are also starting to focus on electric cars. These are not benign either given how Lithium batteries are made and then the complexities in disposing of them later. U.S. car makers are not innocent. I do think that such issues as what happened at Volkswagen occur in other industries where regulations bump up against revenue and profit.

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