Volkswagen, the iconic German automaker famous for its Beetle and legendary van, has always portrayed itself as a champion of the people. In fact, Volkswagen translated means “The people’s car.” The company’s folksy marketing has always attracted a different kind of buyer, one who may be considered progressive and with a social conscience. That hard won reputation appears to be in serious peril as the company revealed a massive fraud perpetrated upon its most fervent fans.
On Friday the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced that Volkswagen admitted to rigging the software in several of its “clean diesel” models in order to fool emissions testing applications. According to the EPA, Volkswagen engineers developed software that would only trigger the vehicles’ “clean” setting during emissions testing. Once a driver left the testing facility, the software would revert the car’s system back to, for lack of a better description, “dirty” diesel.
So Volkswagen marketed its cars as next-gen “clean” vehicles that also happened to enjoy sporty performance, something not usually experienced in diesel vehicles. Turns out it was all a hoax. The only way Volkswagen was able to coax its offending cars to perform up to driver expectations and performance specs was to retard the the emission system. Volkswagens were “clean” at the emissions testing facility but “dirty” everywhere else.
In addition to government imposed civil and criminal penalties, Volkswagen will undoubtedly face numerous lawsuits from customers who thought they were buying one thing but were delivered another. The progressively-minded Volkswagen driver paid a premium to enjoy “green” status. By some estimates, the market value of that premium exceeds $7,000 per vehicle. Not to mention that now, once the defect is fixed, the owner is forced to drive a vehicle that may perform more like a 1982 Mercedes 240d.
As John Decker, owner of a 2013 Volkswagen Jetta SportWagen told the New York Times yesterday “I feel totally ripped off. It just reeks of fraud and that they intentionally misled the buyers of their vehicles into thinking these were clean diesels, environmentally good cars, that were fun to drive.”