Hot air on VW fuel emissions scandal

Confessions, apologies, promises and commitments – Volkswagen are spouting an endless array of words akin to the emissions belching from their data deceiving diesel cars.

As the German car giant continues choking on the fumes of their own breathtaking dishonesty, the question remains as to whether their admissions and desperate pledges to put things right, are seen as anything other than just more toxins, polluting the atmosphere?

How on earth can Volkswagen hope to win back its hard-earned reputation in the eyes of millions of consumers?

Casting a shadow - the VW brand has been tarnished.
Casting a shadow – the VW brand has been tarnished.

The ‘Made in Germany’ motor-brand is based on the Teutonic excellence of not only VW, but the likes of BMW, Mercedes, Porsche and Audi.

One of the most reviled Germans of all time – Hitler’s Nazi propaganda chief, Joseph Goebbels – infamously said: ‘If you tell a lie big enough and keep repeating it, people will eventually come to believe it.’

History shows it didn’t work for the Nazis and the ‘diesel defeat device’ so cleverly created to manipulate emissions readings, hoodwink consumers, cheat regulators and gain a step on competitors, has spectacularly backfired on VW.

Evil lies - Nazi propagandist Joseph Goebbels.
Evil lies – Nazi propagandist Joseph Goebbels.

Telling ‘porkies’ is never a good idea in the realms of business, industry or government. You can push the ‘facts’ to a point, but you must never cross the line.

Being ‘Economical with the truth’ or applying the practice of ‘Lies, damned lies and statistics’ is as far as any ‘PR Guru’ or ‘Spin Doctor’ should ever countenance.

Often enough it’s the in-house Head of Communications or trusted external consultant who gets to earn their corn in the damage limitation fallout, dealing with the inevitable consequences when corporate wrong-doings or ‘misjudgements’ are exposed.

Sorry need not be the hardest word if a company has made a genuine error, and is then willing to hold up its hands and make every effort to provide a solution.

The trick is to not have to go there too often. If a company is forever apologising it won’t survive, for obvious reasons.

Volkswagen’s CEO, Martin Winterkorn issued a public apology for ‘breaking the trust’ of all VW customers.

VW apologist - Martin Winterkorn had to go in the wake of the scandal
VW apologist – Martin Winterkorn had to go in the wake of the scandal

He stood down shortly afterwards, but there’s an extremely rocky road ahead for those he leaves behind, one littered with multi-billion €, $ or £ (choose your own currency) fines, lawsuits, compensation claims, customer refunds and vehicle recalls.

Social media is an ever increasingly powerful influencer when shaping the mindset of consumers.

The views and recommendations from ‘ordinary people’ on the likes of Twitter and Facebook, are often as highly valued as advice from perceived online experts.

It looks bleak in the short-term, but VW will more than likely come through, just as Toyota did five years ago when weathering a huge storm on vehicle safety.

Problems with ‘unintended acceleration’ caused the global recall of millions of Toyota vehicles, damaging perceptions of the Japanese manufacturer and costing billions to rectify.

Toyota still managed to maintain strong growth in its Prius model, by leveraging its previously strong brand appeal and introducing lowering prices.

Volkswagen’s undisputed quality, aligned to potential customer incentives in relation to price and value could and should see them eventually win through according to corporate reputational experts alva*

Unlike VW, Toyota’s was not a premeditated attempt to cheat the world at large, but VW would do well to heed the lessons of their competitor.

Back from the brink - Toyota recovered after the safety scandals of 2010 - can VW do the same in 2015?
Back from the brink – Toyota recovered after the safety scandals of 2010 – can VW do the same in 2015?

As one Toyota senior executive said: “Communication is key. You have to be able to listen to your customers, not just hear them, but listen to what they’re telling you – and be quick about it.”

And the irony of the VW debacle can be found in the identity of the man who was instrumental in uncovering the global fraud.

Working for the International Council on Clean Transportation and describing himself as ‘…just a simple engineer from Michigan’, John German created unprecedented commercial and political shockwaves in the country whose name he bears.



* Full reputational analysis on the Volkswagen diesel emissions scandal can be obtained from