For Volkswagen, the Facts are Where the Rubber Will Meet the Road

September 24, 2015

In mid-September Volkswagen shocked the world by acknowledging that defeat devices were used in as many as 11 million of its diesel vehicles worldwide. These devices enabled the vehicles to deceive regulators by passing emission tests even though under regular road conditions the vehicles exceed standards for nitrogen oxide emissions by as much as 40 times. An estimated 500,000 vehicles in the US are equipped with the defeat device.

And Volkswagen was not quick to admit its deliberate deception. According to recent press reports, the company claimed a “technical error” for more than a year. The recent announcement came after the EPA threatened to withhold approval for 2016 Volkswagen and Audi diesel models.

Now comes the predictable corporate public relations mea culpa. A public apology is issued. The CEO resigns. But this case is not about a negligent defect which a manufacturer seeks to remedy, but something much more difficult to fix- the breach of consumers trust after a deliberate deception.

Individuals who own or lease affected vehicles have suffered damage. They purchased their vehicles based on the company’s claims of high performance, fuel economy and ‘clean’ technology. The EPA will ask Volkswagen to recall approximately 500,000 cars from 2009 to 2015 that use the Type EA 189 2-liter engine. These include Golf, Passat, Jetta and Beetle models as well as potentially some Audi models.

How Volkswagen will modify the vehicles to meet federal and state emission regulations while maintaining the promises of performance and fuel economy is unknown. But if Volkswagen could do that, it would have never needed to cheat. Eventually, those stubborn facts will reveal who did what, and hopefully, who knew what when.

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