News yesterday that VW knowingly installed software in their diesel vehicles that allowed them to spew pollutants but turned the vehicles into “clean” when hooked up to testing equipment has shocked and appalled the public. It led to the resignation of Martin Winterkorn, who accepted responsibility but denied any involvement.
How could this happen? It may take a long time before the truth comes out. The Volkswagen brand has been tarnished and perhaps fatally. The company now faces the recall of millions, MILLIONS, of cars. It has set aside $7.3 billion….yes BILLION and the cost will probably run even more. They face fines in the US of billions of dollars.
A few years ago, I wrote an article for a trade magazine on telematics. The question on a lot of people’s minds back then was “Could the systems be hacked?” At the time, “experts” told me it was unlikely. Well, Jeep found out that wasn’t true, didn’t they?
The specter of hackers gaining control of your vehicle was unthinkable but now it appears it’s possible. That’s bad enough. But what about when the MANUFACTURER decides to use software to “hack” the system? BP was scorned all over the world after their drilling rig caused the environmental disaster in the Gulf of Mexico. Exxon is still castigated, rightfully so, for the oil leak of one of its tankers in Alaska. VW has committed a sin against the world. This was not an accident. This was DELIBERATE.
Besides the effect of causing enormous amounts of pollution to escape into the atmosphere, potentially harming billions of people, not to mention all other life on the planet, what about the owners of these vehicles? The choice to purchase a VW diesel is often made because of concerns about the environment–uses less fossil fuel, supposed to be “clean” (now we know better). Owners of these vehicles will now face the inconvenience of having to bring their vehicles into a dealership to have the “fix” applied. When that happens, it appears they will no longer have the economical vehicles they thought they were purchasing. Result? More fossil fuel burned, greater expense of ownership, potentially more pollution. Another impact will be the hit they will all take on the resale value of their vehicles. They could and probably will lose thousands of dollars as a result of the tarnishing of the brand and the fear of a buyer that somehow the vehicles are damaged goods.
I’m reminded of the recent mess with General Motors. For years, GM brass knew about the ignition switch problem they had. They covered it up. The US government became the owner of GM, for all intents and purposes, and GM filed for bankruptcy. Can they be sued for what happened before the bankruptcy? Probably not. Another huge black eye for the credibility of the automotive industry.
My guess? If VW was doing what they did, there are probably similar things happening elsewhere in the auto industry. It’s disturbing that this kind of immorality can be carried out.