Lies make VW scandal worse than GM, Toyota – Detroit Free Press
Premeditation. That’s the difference between Volkswagen’s faked diesel emission tests and earlier auto scandals. It’s what makes this worse than GM’s ignition switches, Toyota’s runaway cars or Ford-Firestone’s exploding tires.
Volkswagen set out to cheat emissions tests and sell cars that would damage human health and the environment. The other automakers seemed legitimately baffled and eager to address their crises.
VW paused sales of its popular and profitable diesels when it couldn’t meet American standards a decade ago, and practically dislocated a shoulder patting itself on the back for its ingenuity meeting those standards a year later. Except that they didn’t. The engines VW touted as “clean diesels” produced up to 40 times the legal limit, doing untold damage to human health and the environment.
CEO Martin Winterkorn, who resigned last week after accepting responsibility for — but simultaneously claiming to have been ignorant of — the fraud, was famously detail-oriented. We’re supposed to believe he never said, “Great work, Jürgen. So how’d you pull that off?”
This was not the work of a lone gunman, a rogue engineer fiddling with paperwork to save his job. It required meetings where executives decided to lie about the risks their vehicles posed.
The brazen nature of the cheating — it lasted seven model years, with no end in sight before the EPA caught on — is unprecedented.
The scandal undermines what VW claims as its core competencies: rigorous engineering in the service of efficiency and safety.
Audi’s longtime slogan — “Truth in Engineering” — looks like a bad joke.
That may be the most insidious cost of the scandal. People will forgive wrongdoing, but nobody wants to be a laughingstock.
VW is fair game for every comedian. “What’s not green and rhymes with lie? A Volkswagen TDI.” “Not the worst thing Germany ever did.” “And just when we were beginning to trust the Germans again.”
Who wants to hear that when they bring a new car home?
The company’s cherished goal of selling 800,000 cars a year in the U.S. is a pipe dream now. It could also lose the aura of excellence that drives profits in Europe.
VW spent a generation gobbling up other companies and building factories around the world to become the world’s largest automaker, only to learn what the last two companies to hold that distinction — General Motors and Toyota — could have told them: Biggest doesn’t mean best, and important values can get pushed aside in the drive to be #1.
Contact Mark Phelan: 313-222-6731 or email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @mark_phelan.