Three years ago, Volkswagen sold me a lie. The company, through a surely naive car salesman, pitched me on the benefits of its diesel-powered vehicles, ones that were growing in popularity because of their purported eco-friendly engines and impressive kilometres-per-litre advantages over gas.
I bought the pitch. And, as it turns out, I also bought a sleekly designed deceit. The mileage gains I've been deriving have come at an ugly cost: my car has been spewing up to 40 times the legal limit of nitrogen oxide emissions into the atmosphere. And as someone who has an abiding interest in our planet, it has left me more than a little pissed off.
In fact, the more I learn about what will go down as one of the worst corporate, industrial and environmental frauds in history, the angrier I get. And the wrath now being felt by Volkswagen isn't just emanating from a furious customer base, it's radiating from all corners of the globe.
There is also enmity rightly being reserved for governments that have allowed car makers so much emissions testing latitude it's a miracle a company like Volkswagen got caught at all.
The very idea that car manufacturers have been allowed to submit their own emissions test results is beyond belief. The fact environmental agencies have performed random assessments in highly controlled and predictable laboratory settings – ones that allowed Volkswagen to perpetuate its scheme – is equally perplexing. It took a small, non-profit agency that thought something was fishy to conduct its own, on-road investigation to blow the lid off of this con.
It's clear governments everywhere, including Canada, need to overhaul their emissions testing protocols. The fact is, Volkswagen joins a long list of automotive makers that have made forays into gaming the emissions system. Ford, General Motors, Honda, Volvo – they all have. But Volkswagen's is by far the most comprehensive and sophisticated effort yet. It will now pay dearly for it, but not dearly enough.
There are people who should end up in prison over this but likely won't. No, we'll throw someone in jail for forging a cheque but be in charge of a company that has masterminded one of the largest corporate frauds in history and you get a massive multimillion-dollar severance and pension payout on your way out the door.
There had to have been a number of people among VW's corporate ranks aware of what was going on. How did those people sleep at night? Why didn't anyone blow the whistle?
No one knows for sure how much extra pollution the 11 million cars Volkswagen now admits were illegally evading emissions regulations actually caused. Bloomberg did some rough number crunching and estimated the result to be between 68,000 and 274,000 additional tons of nitrogen oxide emissions each year. At the high end, that would be 25 times what a typical coal plant without emission controls would cough out each year.
Of course, most of these cars, including mine, are still out on the road belching out pollutants at intolerable rates. There has been no contact from VW about when vehicles will be recalled so proper emissions controls can be installed. Given that these devices will dramatically reduce the pleasing kilometres-per-litre advantages these diesels enjoyed, many owners will likely ignore the recall altogether. This is why the federal or provincial governments will have to step in to ensure this can't occur.
As for me, well, I can't wait to get rid of my Volkswagen, which, thankfully, is leased. It always drove like a sputtering tank and continually had issues not the least of which, I've now discovered, is that it's a major polluter.
Das Auto. Das Lie.