Is the world clamoring for a resolution to Dieselgate, the VW emissions cheating scandal that broke in September? Who knew what when, who's going to hang and how much will VW have to pay? Six hundred thousand US owners of VW, Audi and Porsche diesels haven't forgotten. Many of them are outraged and screaming, You bastards lied to me and I want my money back! And the rest are just as ticked off but yelling, Dude, I'm getting awesome mileage and performance and you want me to give up this car?
Here's an update:
Beyond immediately halting new diesel sales, VW Group still hasn't figured out what to do--recall, repair, replace? Meanwhile, their US dealers have bestowed free roadside assistance and gift cards worth $1,000 on affected owners. So far, however, despite their hugely unlawful emissions, these diesel vehicles remain legal in all 50 states. They may be driven and re-sold--even by VW, Audi and Porsche dealers, if the cars are not in a Certified Pre-Owned program! But of course the cars aren't worth much. (Even if you don't have a diesel, this is a great time to go to a VW store and haggle. For anything.)
Hundreds of private lawsuits have been filed, a class-action suit is pending and the Justice Department is suing VW in federal court. European Union lawyers are investigating whether millions in low-cost loans to VW--meant for green programs, ironically--can be linked to Dieselgate.
VW swears it didn't cheat in Europe, where diesel emission standards are lower than here, but worldwide about 11 million vehicles dating back to 2009 are under scrutiny. Whether some or all of them need software re-flashes, new catalytic converters, or tanks and plumbing for exhaust-scrubbing urea fluid--or cars have to be bought back and scrapped--the fix will cost billions. That's before any civil or criminal penalties. Some people want to use this to force VW to build zero-emission--i.e., electric--vehicles instead. And in Germany, where diesels rule, the Economic Minister is now asking for 2 billion euros ($2.17 billion) to promote electric cars and build more public charging stations.
Whatever happens at VW, the EU is setting up stricter diesel testing of its own. This is not just for cleaner air, but also to restore confidence in its carmakers. According to American survey company AutoList, our trust in the auto industry is now down 12 percent (GM played a role here too), trust in German engineering is down 18 percent, confidence in the quality of VW cars slid 27 percent, willingness to buy a VW is off by 28 percent--and one in four respondents thinks VW's cheating was as bad or worse than the BP oil spill.
Speaking of which, VW USA has brought in Ken Feinberg, the lawyer who oversaw BP's claims program, as its go-between with diesel owners, and last week hired an executive V-P specifically to handle Dieselgate. The German parent company promised a full report at its annual shareholders' get-together on April 21, and then postponed the meeting. Whenever it happens, it's sure to be a noisy one: VW's value has dropped by a third, more than $20 billion.
A reader neatly summarized why diesel fans are fans, and why we shouldn't let VW's dirty brush tar all such engines:
"My point is to give an example of a tremendous surge in automotive technology and efficiency. In 1967, I bought a brand-new Bug, with sunroof, whitewalls, black leatherette upholstery and AM-FM radio, for $1,968. Top speed was 80-85, depending on wind. 53-horsepower 1.5-liter flat four, a four-speed manual and 27 MPG. If you adjust the price for inflation, that car today would cost about $14,000.
"In 2014, I bought a BMW 328D xDrive for less than three times that much, just under $40,000. But what a difference! 180 horsepower, 280 lb-ft of torque, eight-speed automatic, top speed 130. And the mileage . . . amazing. Around Cape Cod, I get mid to high 40s. When it was new, on a trip down the Maine Turnpike, at a steady 65 I got 52.9 MPG. This in an AWD luxury car with many amenities. It's also quick and quiet. I can only hope that BMW is not also cheating on pollution controls."
BMW evidently isn't cheating--nor is Mercedes-Benz, Jeep, GM, Ford, Nissan and Dodge Ram, all of whom also sell diesel vehicles here. But they're wondering whether diesels still have a future in America, especially since gas is cheap now. Jaguar and Land Rover were just finalizing plans to bring their first diesels to America when the VW manure hit the impeller. JLR stuck with it, though, and last month 20 percent of US Range Rover Sports and 25 percent of Range Rovers were ordered with the new V-6 diesels--right on the company's pre-VW forecast. We aren't done with diesels just yet.
Silvio Calabi reviews the latest from Detroit, Munich, Yokohama, Gothenburg, Crewe, Seoul and wherever else interesting cars are born. Silvio is a member of the International Motor Press Association whose automotive reviews date back to the Reagan administration. He is the former publisher of Speedway Illustrated magazine and an author. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.