Thursday, October 1, 2015

Tee Dee Ai-Yi-Yi!

It all started with a simple test.  The International Council on Clean Transportation (ICCT), an international organization devoted to more environmentally friendly means of getting around,  wanted to test diesel-powered Volkswagens and other German cars in the United States to show European countries that the stringent diesel emission standards in the U.S. could work elsewhere.  The head of the ICCT's American branch - ironically named John German - gave scientists at West Virginia University a $50,000 grant to do the tests.  And lo and behold, VW was putting software in its TDI diesel engines to cheat the standards.
Now Volkswagen has to fix nearly half a million cars in the States and eleven million cars worldwide.
Clean diesel isn't so clean anymore. :-O
As a VW enthusiast, I'm still depressed over this, especially when I understand that the repairs on these diesel-powered cars could cost the company $6.5 billion on top of the $18 billion in projected U.S. government fines for the cheating.  The scandal has definitely had an impact on Volkswagen sales in These States; while other foreign automakers doing business in the U.S. and the domestic manufacturers saw their U.S. sales increase exponentially in September, VW's sales were flat.  Actually they were up by six-tenths of a percent, possibly due to the ongoing good buzz for the all-new Golf (except for the TDI version, of course), but compared to the strong sales of its competitors, VW's numbers are actually quite pathetic.  As a result of the scandal, Volkswagen of America is in its gravest crisis since the early nineties.
Volkswagen risked everything on diesel-powered cars to increase sales in the United States and lost big-time by cheating rather than making a genuinely clean diesel engine that would have made its diesel-powered cars cost more than they actually did.  The company hopes that it can get two all-new SUVs, one of which is a midsize model to be built in Tennessee, and a four-wheel-drive Golf station wagon to market in the U.S. soon; the as-yet unnamed midsize SUV would compete in a super-hot market segment that VW is currently unrepresented in.  The so-called Golf Alltrack four-wheel-drive wagon should definitely be interesting to check out.  But the sport-utility gambit is all wrong.  VW should just admit that it will never be a mass-market brand in the U.S., even if its cars are mass-market-priced, and just concentrate on the small cars that made Volkswagen a household word in America in the first place instead of chasing trends, especially a cynical SUV trend started by Detroit to take advantage of looser fuel economy standards for light-truck-chassis vehicles and higher profit margins on such vehicles.  American-style SUVs should not be Volkswagen's focus.  Small cars that are fun to drive and have more personality than Japanese, Korean and American cars should be its focus.  How can it compete that way in an SUV-happy market, you ask?  Consider the Beetle.  It carved out a niche in the 1950s and 1960s at a time when Americans bought Detroit behemoths.  It never sold more than half a million or so cars in a single year, but it had a nice foothold in the American market.  Now VW's hanging on by the fingernails.
And forget about diesel, VW.  Americans simply don't like diesel engines.  And after this scandal, we'll eat muesli and wear lederhosen before we give diesel another shot.  Concentrate on your hybrids instead.  After all, a young engineer working for the Austrian car company Lohner thought it was a good idea.
This engineer's name was Ferdinand Porsche.
New VW boss Matthias Müller has vowed to set things right.  I wish him the best of luck. Because, as I wrote when this scandal first broke, I remain a loyal VW customer.  The alternative to owning a Volkswagen - i.e., having a Toyota - is unacceptable.  

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