Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Way to go, VW. (NOT!)

If asked to pick an automaker that I actually liked, I probably would go with VW. I’m not much of a car person – and am un-American enough to have reached great old age with only three cars to my name – but I was once the owner of a New Beetle. Maybe even a proud and happy owner of a New Beetle. (All these years later, I still get a small smile on my face when I see one, and when I walk by, check to see whether they have flowers in their vase. I was a daisy person, myself. And when I see an Old Beetle, I get a large smile on my face.)
Anyway, if asked, Volkswagen would probably have been my favorite car manufacturer.

And then I read that they’ve been cheating on their emissions tests:

Volkswagen admitted on Sept. 18 to fitting some of its U.S. diesel vehicles with software that turns on full pollution controls only when the car is undergoing official emissions testing, the Environmental Protection Agency said Friday. Affected are diesel versions of the VW Jetta, Golf, Beetle and Passat and the Audi A3.

During normal driving, the cars with the software -- known as a “defeat device” -- would pollute 10 times to 40 times the legal limits, the EPA estimated. The discrepancy emerged after the International Council on Clean Transportation commissioned real-world emissions tests of diesel vehicles including a Jetta and Passat, then compared them to lab results. (Source: Bloomberg)

And now the US DoJ has begun a criminal investigation, which could lead to charges against VW and/or the lausbuben* who decided it might be a good thing to futz around with pollution controls.

Cheat, cheat, never beat: the company’s stock took a cheat, cheat beating on the Frankfurt exchange, at one point taking a dive that translated into a nearly 20% decline in market value.
Although I highly doubt that he had anything to do with this, it’s definitely bad timing for CEO Martin Winterkorn, “whose contract renewal is scheduled for a supervisory board vote on Friday.”

What do you think’s going to happen here? I know that CEO’s can be forgiven (and even rewarded) for an awful lot, but nobody likes to see bad behavior of the destroying the environment ilk, let alone a deep plunge in market value.
Winterkorn has made a public apology, but sorry may not take him very far, given that:

The violations could result in as much as $18 billion in fines, based on the cost per violation and the number of cars.

It will be interesting to see just how far up the decision-making chain the shocking decision to cheat in such an egregious way was made. As I said, I doubt that the CEO knew about it, but just who did?

This is not quite up there with deliberately lying about cigarette smoking causing cancer, and other killer product decisions. Still, especially with environmental concerns being what they are – or what they should be – this is a plenty lousy thing to have done.

A while back, VW used the word "fahrvergnügen” in their marketing. The word translates as “driving enjoyment”. In one catch phrase, fahrvergnügen was “what makes a car a Volkswagen".

When I had my Beetle, I did get a good deal of fahrvergnügen out of it.

For one of the few times in my life, I was an early adopter – I bought the first model, back in 1998. When I went to a party shortly after I bought it, guests – most of them my age – lined up to take it for a spin around the block.

It was fun to drive, and fun to own. It  even made me like the company.

Never say never: if I ever own another car (which I hope not to), I guess I’d still consider a Volkswagen. But this sure isn’t making me feel benevolently disposed towards them. Not at the moment, anyway.

What’s German for ‘cheating on admissions’?

Fahrvergnügen indeed….

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*This was one of the words my German mother would throw into a conversation. It was her word for brat, but it also translates as scoundrel, knave, rogue, good for nothing.

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