About 7 years ago during the tumults of the great recession, I was in the market for a new car for my wife. She is a better person than I am, and so she was looking for an environmentally conscious choice. We were living in Brooklyn, NY at that time and were sharing one vehicle as we both needed a car for work. We decided that it was the right time to purchase a car.
We considered purchasing a Prius, and rented one but I didn’t really feel passionate about the car. It didn’t really feel like a car in my mind. My wife had previously leased a 2005 Jetta and was happy with it so we looked to purchase a Volkswagen. When we went to the VW dealership in Queens, we found a nice Red Sportswagen TDI. It drove well, had bluetooth a nice interior and a great sunroof. We bought it.
And truth be told, we were very happy with it for several years. It had an extremely low cost of ownership and great gas (diesel) mileage and you didn’t have to take it in every 5000 miles for a Urea change. And it drove well. When you put your foot down, the turbo would spool, and then within 2 seconds the acceleration would hit and you were transported into a Porsche (maybe only in my mind). It was also very versatile. It had a plenty of cargo room and you could transport a family of five comfortably. We enjoyed 6 hassle free years with the car, and I was happy at the prospect of owning the car for another 6 years.
Then the Volkswagen crisis hit in September of 2015. A brief synopsis if you’ve been on the international space station for the past year with a poor internet connection: VW installed software on it’s diesel cars to outwit the federal emissions tests, the car would know when it was being tested and not emit nitrogen particulates. Then with regular driving, it would switch back into “normal” mode and emit as much emissions as an 18 wheeler or between 10-40 times emissions standards. The audacity and hubris of this corporation was unbelievable. How could a publicly traded company flout the laws the United States intended to protect the air quality of this country?
This was not a onetime event. It didn’t just effect one make or one model of car that VW manufactured and sold in the United States. The software was installed on multiple diesel models across several different brands (VW, Audi, Porsche) for seven years on multiple continents. When regulators confronted VW with their evidence, VW attempted to deny the claims for as long as they could. When VW finally did admit their cars were equipped with a “defeat device”, they claimed it was installed by a handful of rogue engineers.
Rogue and engineer are two words that don’t typically go together, and for VW to attempt to blame their non-compliance on a secret band of rogue employees that were installing bad code on Porsches, Audis and VWs is ridiculous. At a company like Volkswagen, for software to be installed across platforms there were more than just a few employees that were involved and I would bet the order came from up high and everyone else was following orders without questioning their superiors. My theory is that VW had invested a large amount into Diesel technology before realizing it would not be cost effective to manufacture Diesel models for the U.S. market that could comply with the tougher emissions standards. To salvage probably hundreds of millions of development money, the company made a choice to go rogue. That choice is now costing the company billions.
Whatever transpired, I am suddenly left with a VW that somehow has broken its promise. And is also worth less with stop sales of dealer certified pre-owned models and new diesels in the US. And my wife is unhappy with a car that is one of the worst polluters on the road and has been for the last six and a half years. Now, I want out. I want Volkswagen to take some responsibility for their error and purchase back the polluting car. That may seem like a tall order, but I think it might actually be the most viable option for the company and also help Volkswagen move on. Everyday that VW continues to shirk its responsibility the news gets worse, the best way for the company to move on is to come to speedy resolution with regulators and make owners whole and entice them to return to the brand with incentives. Without decisive action on the part of Volkswagen, the brand becomes less viable in the North American market as they continue to lose market share. It will take leadership out of Wolfsburg for the company to right itself. Unfortunately, we have not seen such action, and VW is beginning to look like a rudderless ship. Especially with the recent resignation of Michael Horn (CEO of Volkswagen USA) and a slow motion dealer mutiny. If VW does make current owners a buyback offer and pairs it with incentives to return to the brand, I won’t buy another, but I might lease one.
It does make you think, if Volkswagen was willing to discreetly cheat on emissions, what other big name companies are cheating and to what extent? Is the crash-test data we make purchase decisions on being gamed as well? I wouldn’t be surprised.