Dieselgate: VW Scandal Explodes 'Myth' of German Integrity, Reliability (La Repubblica, Italy)
"'Dieselgate,' as it immediately and inevitably has been dubbed, certified by the American government after months of testing,
research, explanations and, finally, confessions, has hit the buying public
like the discovery of infidelity by someone near and dear to it. … How many other control mechanisms in our
automobiles have been fiddled with about which we know nothing? What else have
the 'little brains' in our cars been programmed to do? What other
games of 'three-card Monte' are feasible, especially now at a time of
all-powerful electronics when even taking remote control of an automobile or penetrating
a chip over the Internet is possible? And if even the Germans who are always
ready to lecture others on integrity cheat, who can be trusted?"
It betrays the global myth of German integrity
and the cult of industrial reliability at the largest and therefore most well-liked
car manufacturer in the world. "Dieselgate,"
as it immediately and inevitably has been dubbed, certified by the
American government after months of testing, research, explanations and,
finally, confessions, has hit the buying public like the discovery of
infidelity by someone near and dear to it. And 70 percent of the owners of the automobiles
it sold consider the $18 billion in fines imposed on the Wolfsburg company to be "too little," not knowing that this
is the maximum penalty that can be leveled by the EPA – U.S. Environmental Protection
The subterfuge incorporated into the in-car software devised
by Volkswagen engineers which reprogrammed the engine's control unit to make it
appear that the 4-cylinder turbo diesel engine, the legendary TDI [Turbocharged
Direct Injection], was spewing out less nitric oxide – one of the most
noxious pollutants – has struck and personally injured those who for decades have
placed their trust in the brand created as "the peoples' car" in 1937.
Since the unforgettable Beetle, a car produced for so many
years (1938 to 2003) and in the greatest numbers in the history of the four-wheeler
with over 21 million sold, not to forget the first minivan in history - icon of
younger generations of motorized nomads, VW has built up its well-deserved
fortune on the rock-solid certainty of German "Technik" - on the certainty of solid, sometimes stolid, German
wasn't the fault of the designers, a quality control failure or failure of a
component (as happens with millions of cars recalled every year and of every
brand, from Toyota to Chrysler, GM and Ford) that has stirred the indignation
of customers and investors who have dumped VW shares on stock exchanges as if
it had become radioactive. It was the realization that someone, with or without
the tacit approval of top management, had manipulated the cards to win the game
like the barker in game of three-card Monte. A series of commands from the
in-board unit that controls the engine had been programmed to make the car understand
that someone was checking nitrogen emissions and reduce them in order to pass
the test. When a small laboratory in West Virginia wanted to discover, in
admiration, the technological secret of a diesel engine that managed to cut
pollution without tanks of ammonia, as happens with the more sophisticated and
expensive Blue Diesel, the fakery
was exposed. The Germans at Volkswagen, perhaps the very ones who categorically
accuse other countries and nationalities of falsifying their accounts and
cheating, have been caught cheating.
It was a revelation that immediately took on much more
serious connotations than the humiliation of a great company that had managed for
the first time, in the first half of 2015, to overtake Toyota and establish
itself as the biggest automobile company in the world with 5.4 million vehicles
sold compared with 5.2 million by the Japanese. The pollution emerged comes
just as pollution is globally on the rise and there is a push to restrict that which
is caused by man – a topic to be taken up by Pope Francis at the opening of the
U.N. General Assembly. Obama, who is said to be "extremely concerned"
about this, and the White House by way of the Justice Department, are examining
the possibility of indicting VW management for "white collar" crimes that
they "conspired" to commit, therefore going far beyond the usual
fines levied against companies caught doing shoddy work or marketing unsafe products.
Angela Merkel, who is warning of the catastrophic effect of "Dieselgate" on Germany's squeaky-clean image, has demanded
investigations and explanations. VW Group President Martin Winterkorn
has admitted everything and to his credit and has accepted full responsibility.
Yet in Japan, for much less, the head of a planetary multinational caught in
such a global embarrassment would seriously consider committing Hara-Kiri.
The damage, however, is of incalculable proportions, as is
the cloud that hovers over two initials that have been
projected across the planet for decades - and not only on an industrial and
commercial level. Even Volkswagen's laborious plans to sell diesel automobiles in
the U.S. from the group's other great brand, Audi, as an ecological alternative
to the preferred hybrid vehicles built by the Japanese will be devastated. The
relationship that runs between an owner and his car, above all but not only in
the American market, is something that transcends the simple utility of a
vehicle capable of transporting the driver and his family from point A to point
B. It is personal and emotive and based on trust like any relationship.
Defects, failures, disappointments and falling out of love
are common, and the popular saying goes that there are only two happy days in cohabitation
with an automobile – the day you buy it and the day you sell it. No one expects
perfection and everyone is aware of the "planned obsolescence"
in every car which predetermines its wear-and-tear and life expectancy and
therefore the need to replace it. However, no-one up to now has ever imagined that
their car's performance had been deliberately reprogrammed to make it appear as
if it could do something that it demonstrably cannot.
There can be no schadenfreude
- no wicked joy at the troubles of others, as the German compound word goes, about
the discovery that even Germany knows how to cheat its customers by hiding the
fact that noxious emissions from their own 4-cyinder diesel engines are 40
times the maximum allowed by law. However, this is an international matter, an
incident that touches a Europe over which Germany and its often overbearing
flag fly and which gives encouragement to the non-European competition in Japan
and China, which secretly gloat over this as they did the disastrous damage inflicted
by Wall Street's financiers, because it raises questions about the integrity
and honesty of companies that have made their reputations a genuine strength.
Posted By Worldmeets.US
How many other control mechanisms in our automobiles have
been fiddled with about which we know nothing? What else have the "little
brains" in our cars been programmed to do? What other games of "three-card
Monte" are feasible, especially now at a time of all-powerful electronics
when even taking remote control of an automobile or penetrating a chip over the
Internet is possible? And if even the Germans who are always ready to lecture
others on integrity cheat, who can be trusted?
*Vittorio Zucconi is director La Repubblica online and serves as U.S. correspondent. He has
previously been Moscow correspondent for Corriere della Sera and Brussels and Tokyo correspondent for La Stampa.