Dieselgate: Where there’s smoke…

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Volkswagen should not be let off the hook, argues Stephen Corby.

IT’S incredible how quickly palms-up, “did-you-hear-about” outrage turns to shrug-shouldered “shit happens”.

When the Volkswagen ‘Emitzkrieg’ struck, people were properly open-mouthed in their horror and predicting the end of a company valued at more than $170 billion, but pretty quickly even some members of the quite rabid motoring media were laughing ruefully about how they’d likely get away with it. And how just about everyone was probably doing it anyway.

But the fact is, much like some other giant fails in German history, this is not something those involved should be let off the hook for. Basically, they behaved like the infamously evil slime-tards that exist in cigarette companies.

Somewhere, at some stage, some very senior people sat in a room with some clever people in VW-monogrammed white coats and decided that, yes, they would deceive the public and intentionally cause them harm.

The science was in, and incontrovertible; their products would produce an ingestible substance that would make the public sick, and possibly kill some of them. And they would sell these products to people, including their countrymen, friends and relatives, despite knowing it was wrong. Morally and legally.

It seems odd that the software that helped a cripplingly large number of diesel-engined cars – about 11 million of them – to pass emissions tests by temporarily pretending to be cleverer than they really were was dubbed a ‘defeat system’ because I didn’t think the Germans had a word for defeat.

VW-Cars -Lined -Up -in -CarparkThey do have a word for enjoying the suffering of others, though, and schadenfreude is what other car companies that didn’t cheat – and who would have wondered in their engineering meetings, knowing what they know about diesel engines, how VW was producing such impressive figures from its cars – have been subjected to.

Competitors who haven’t been cheating probably laugh long and loud when thinking about the product recalls the German giant is facing, which will hurt in the long run, possibly even more than the billions of dollars in fines and the bath its share price will take.

Imagine, as an owner, being called by your dealer and asked to bring your car in so they can reset the software and give it back to you with less power and torque than it had when you bought it. “But look on the bright side, sir, your tail-pipe emissions won’t be choking butterflies and ponies to death anymore! Oh, and did we mention your resale value? You don’t have that anymore, so perhaps you’d prefer to just trade that one in for a few bucks and buy another VW instead? Come on, you can trust us.”

You can see that the company looks like it’s going to have a few issues and, frankly, that makes me glad, because they deserve to pay heavily for the kind of malice aforethought they’ve displayed. And if we’re expected to believe that the people at the top didn’t know it was going on, then I guess we’ll also have to believe Tony Abbott didn’t know that Australians don’t like him.

VW will survive because it is, like certain US carmakers that have been bailed out in the past, too big to fail. What it may have to do is sell off some of its sexier assets to raise money to pay what should be a staggering penalty for its misbehaviour.

That could mean saying goodbye to Bentley (Mercedes-Benz might fancy a Rolls competitor), Skoda and even the fabulously profitable Lamborghini. If you think a rich businessman fallen on tough times who had to sell his Aventador would have a hands-on-cheeks sad face, imagine having to let the whole company go.

Oh well, shit happens.

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