The VW software scandal is an ideal topic for contrarian thinking.
The USA government auto industry regulators, media and consumer groups and more recently European governments, are indulging in an orgy or self-righteous condemnation of Volkswagen for beating the system.
Pontificating lawyers are drooling at the mouth at the prospect of huge class action lawsuits with the potential for billions in damages.
What exactly is the terrible crime that VW is accused of? Hundreds of deaths from accidents caused by stuck accelerators? Mutilation from over explosive airbags? Deaths and injuries from steering defects? Or a host of other dangerous deficiencies in vehicle design that have resulted in the recalls of millions of cars in recent years.
None of the above.
In the acres of print and hundreds of hours of publicity that has played out in old and new media over the last few days, I have yet to learn of one death or injury as a result of Golf, Jetta and Audi diesel engined vehicles having extra smart software in their engine management systems.
Using contrarian thinking to analyse the issue instead of merely following the screaming majority, here are 6 important points.
- Publicised fuel consumption claims by all manufacturers are calculated under optimum driving conditions.
- Any buyer who believes he or she will consistently achieve the claimed fuel consumption in real life situations is naive. A few will, most will not.
- VW diesel engined vehicles are fuel-efficient. Ask drivers of those cars.
- VW cars are safe, reliable and probably less polluting than the huge V8 engined trucks so beloved by many macho North American city drivers who never use them to carry more than a couple of carry packs of beer.
- The auto industry is rife with misleading advertising. One truck maker claims “the most fuel-efficient pickup” for a V8 engined vehicle. I would bet that the tiny VW Golf, Ford Bantam or small Japanese pickups available in many parts of the world are considerably more economical.
- Advertising a price and hiding a delivery charge and other extras in the small print is another example.
The regulators claim that consumers have been misled into buying vehicles they assume to be less damaging to the environment.
By how much do these vehicles exceed the required emissions? 1% 10% 50%? 2 parts per billion?
Just claiming they do not comply and therefore damage the environment is not good enough, let’s hear some facts.
Now the regulators want to impose larger fines than the original purchase price of the vehicles and to order VW to offer compensation and / or a buy back scheme.
I am sure that any buyer feeling unhappy with actual versus claimed fuel consumption would have taken it up with the dealer long ago. A flood of such complaints would have been picked up by the media.
Large numbers of VW vehicles failing tests in jurisdictions requiring emissions testing before re-registration or after a number of years would have been picked up by the media, that does not seem to have been a problem.
This whole drama seems to be more about big government in the USA being miffed because a smart manufacturer found a way to break the rules. To add insult to injury, a European manufacturer.
Contrarian thinking would also point out that it is another weapon in the USA’s arsenal to damage European competition and enrich itself with billions of dollars at the same time.
The proposed punishment is as appropriate as using a sledge-hammer to kill a flea. The CEO of VW has already resigned, the stock price has lost 25% and the company’s sales are dwindling.
Should VW be punished for breaking the rules? Yes, if they could not comply with the regulations they should have lobbied for the regulations to be relaxed. Or applied for exemption.
There is a real danger that the world’s second biggest car maker’s ability to supply popular, safe, fuel-efficient and environmentally friendly cars will be affected. Whatever version of software is installed.
There is a case for criticising the regulations as being too stringent. Millions of small diesel engined vehicles comply with emission standards in Europe and the rest of the world. However in North America only VW and its sophisticated software has been able to comply.
Perhaps VW have done the industry and consumers a favour by exposing the regulations as being too onerous.
Any punishment should be relevant to the real harm done, not to cripple a maker of good vehicles.
What do you think?