Warren Marvelley was in a hopeful mood on Saturday. He and his wife, Jane, have set their hearts on buying a new VW Golf and believe the time is ripe to buy one. The decision may seem odd, given the turmoil that now surrounds Volkswagen. Last week its share price plummeted after senior executives admitted that Volkswagen had disguised illegal levels of emissions produced by some diesel-engined cars.
Nevertheless, the Marvelleys, from Rochdale, Greater Manchester, were buoyant during their visit to the Lookers showroom in Blackburn. “I’ve read all about the scandal, but it really doesn’t bother me that much,” said 51-year-old Warren. “Yes, a few of their people have cooked the figures, but I don’t think we’re talking drastic amounts, so I won’t be holding it against them.”
In fact, the Marvelleys believe the scandal may play into their hands: they will be looking for a suitable discount on their car. “VW have said they want to be transparent and do the right thing, and I’m pretty confident they will,” said Warren. “They’re a good company, so I think they’ll feel obliged to compensate people.”
The Marvelleys were not the only people moving in on Volkswagen, however. Across the globe there were signs that the trickle of action taken against the corporation was turning into a torrent. As Berthold Huber – acting head of VW’s supervisory board – put it, the company is now facing a “moral and policy disaster”.
Switzerland gave one example by halting sales of VW diesel cars. The ban involves any vehicles in the Euro 5 category, about 180,000 cars This contains the majority of the cars VW has admitted have been fitted with defeat devices, which were installed to disguise illegal emission levels. Other countries – including Germany, the US and the UK – have launched investigations into diesel emissions since the scandal emerged and could also ban VW cars from their roads.
The VW group has admitted that 11 million vehicles worldwide, including five million Volkswagen brand cars, were fitted with defeat devices. It has now set aside €6.5bn (£4.8bn) to pay for the costs of the crisis. However, it also faces the prospect of fines of up to $18bn from US regulators and could find itself at the receiving end of one of the biggest legal claims in history from customers and shareholders around the world.
On Friday, a week after the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) first made allegations against VW, the company blamed the emissions scandal on a “small group” of people and suspended a number of staff. VW made the comments at a press conference to unveil Matthias Müller as its new chief executive, replacing Martin Winterkorn, who resigned on Wednesday in response to the scandal. The carmaker has also called an extraordinary shareholder meeting on 9 November.
The German government has said that 2.8 million of the 11 million cars installed with the defeat device were sold in Germany and commercial vehicles were also involved. Documents have also emerged showing that EU offices knew two years ago that devices could skew emissions tests. The EPA also warned that it would step up emissions testing of all carmakers and that VW faces “massive fines”.
Not surprisingly, the story has dominated the German press. “Please clean up, Herr Müller!” said the centre-left daily Süddeutsche Zeitung, which warned that the new Volkswagen boss faces a “Herculean task” to revamp the company in the next few months. “The goal is to open up the empire which has been run for years as a centralised, insular kingdom.”
Der Spiegel took a broader view of the scandal, warning that the billion-dollar class action lawsuits Volkswagen faces in the US could be a serious threat to the whole company. It quoted one lawyer as saying that VW could have to sell off brands to pay its fines, just as BP had to sell some operations after the Gulf of Mexico disaster.
The conservative daily Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung said German transport minister Alexander Dobrindt is under mounting pressure. “The fact that scores of VW executives and other unnamed staff are losing their jobs suggests that the practice of cheating and concealment is far more widespread than thought,” it pointed out.
• This article was amended on 27 September 2015 to remove inaccuracies introduced during the editing process.