Volkswagen has a new high-tech Microbus concept car on display at the Detroit Auto Show, which is really cool (and I hope to see it at the New York auto show in April), and it's touting its new Atlas SUV, being introduced this spring (relax, I'll get to that later), but it still has to deal with the aftermath of the diesel emissions affair, the scandal that just won't go away. The German automaker pleaded guilty to a conspiracy to hide cheating on emissions test - one count of conspiracy to commit fraud, one count on obstruction of justice, and one count of entry of goods by false statement. This comes after it was discovered that top VW executives in Wolfsburg learned about the emissions-cheating software in TDI engines just before the scandal broke. Well, two months before the scandal broke . . .
And what's more VW officials who did know about the scandal told engineers to destroy all documents related to the emissions-test-cheating software a short time ago. Well, four or five years ago . . .
Oh yeah, and a VW executive in charge of Volkswagen of America's environmental and engineering office was arrested in Florida for his involvement in the scandal. He was one of six individuals who were indicted; the other five are in Germany and are as likely to set foot in this country as Roman Polanski is.
You know, VW could have saved itself a lot of trouble if Martin Winterkorn or whomever had gone to U.S. regulators as soon as this rogue operation was uncovered in-house before it became public knowledge. Ironically, the $4.3 billion it must pay in fines - $1.5 billion for civil charges and $2.8 billion for criminal charges - could have been even higher had VW not agreed to the cough up $11 billion to fix the TDI vehicles it sold in the U.S.
This embarrassing news couldn't come for a worse time for VW. Not only does it overshadow its new product in the United States (the Atlas and the Golf Alltrack wagon) , it also comes when most of its U.S. vehicles score shockingly low in quality and reliability ratings from Consumer Reports, and its 2016 sales were down 7.6 percent from 2015. VW is trying to get its act together while also trying to sell cars without a price advantage over the competition and dealing with a lot of bad publicity over the diesel affair. The best we VW enthusiasts can hope for is for the Volkswagen brand to at least survive in the United States. Because the firm's "8 by 18" plan - selling 800,000 cars per annum (including Audis and Bentleys) by 2018 - was revealed to have been a pipe dream long before unimaginative journalists coined the term "Dieselgate."