Volkswagen plant

Volkswagen plant

The revelation last fall that Volkswagen had intentionally covered up the true emission levels of several diesel-powered cars, including some sold under premium brands Audi and Porsche, came as a shock to many--not least those of us in the media.

The ongoing scandal affects millions of vehicles sold worldwide, though headlines from across the globe indicate that the majority of concern is being voiced by North Americans.

This is understandable, given the lack of affinity for diesel passenger cars in the U.S. and Canada, and the fact that the unlawful deception was first brought to light by U.S. regulators.

DON'T MISS: Volkswagen, EPA Unlikely To Settle Before End Of March: Report

With this in mind, we sought to discover what average people on the street in Germany thought about the scandal.

Why Germany? The country is more closely linked to Volkswagen than any other. VW Group is Germany's largest company by revenue, and one of its biggest employers.

Moreover, diesel is the fuel of choice for more than 50 percent of drivers there, due to various incentives that make it cheaper than gasoline. 

2015 Volkswagen Golf TDI SE

2015 Volkswagen Golf TDI SE

These are the questions we asked each of six Germans who were willing to share their views:

1) Can you explain, in a sentence or two, your understanding of VW’s emissions cheating scandal?

2) How serious is this issue--for Volkswagen, for German industry, and for car buyers?

3) What do you think of the coverage of the scandal you've seen in Germany’s mainstream press?

4) Will the scandal affect your decision-making when considering a VW Group product in the future?

5) Has the scandal altered your thinking about diesel fuel, and greener alternatives such as hybrid and battery-electric cars?

The responses we received have been translated from the German and (lightly) edited for clarity.

2010 Volkswagen Jetta Sportwagen TDI

2010 Volkswagen Jetta Sportwagen TDI

Gerald, manager at landscaping firm and VW owner

1) Apparently staff at VW knowingly installed diesel filters which hid emission readings that were above the norm. According to VW, the management did not know that engineers had installed these filters.

2) I don’t think the issue is very serious. In six months, no one will be talking about this anymore. I happily drive a VW myself, the latest Mk7 Golf.

3) The German media reports all major news. However, I can’t judge if they did an objective report here because I don’t know that much about the topic.

4) No, because I don’t care what VW did as everyone cheats.

5) No, I will still continue to use diesel and gasoline.

Volkswagen plant

Volkswagen plant

Martin, auto enthusiast

1) Due to a lack of funds for engine development, engineers in charge of VW’s diesel engines developed software that hides shortcomings of the engines, in this case emissions that are too high. This was a stupid solution.

2) The seriousness of the issue will depend on developments in the U.S. For example, the size of any fine or compensation deal will be an important factor on VW’s bottom line. There is also the issue of VW’s brand image being hurt, and we’ve already seen the company’s share price hit.

Nevertheless, I think the company will recover. Because VW sells so many cars in so many countries, I think the sales will stabilize soon.

ALSO SEE: VW To Release Diesel Cheating Report April 21, Annual Meeting Postponed

As for the whole industry, I think other car companies will also suffer as a result of the scandal. For example, buyers may be turned off diesel products from other brands as well. There will also be much more skepticism towards the industry. I’m not so sure that’s a bad thing, though.

3) I would have liked to have seen more facts and figures in the reporting here. We tended to see more comments and opinions rather than hard facts. I wanted to know the exact measurements and a detailed list of the pollutants emitted. I also wanted to know what the regulators said. There was almost no factual information.

4) Yes. I already had doubts about VW’s modular platform strategy, such as the lack of individuality between products.

2015 Volkswagen Passat TDI

2015 Volkswagen Passat TDI

I also already had doubts about VW’s emissions because of the vast difference between claimed fuel economy [using European test cycles] and real-world figures. I always thought something was off because of comparisons between stated figures for CO2 per kilometer and actual fuel consumption.

Though this is not strictly an issue with VW products, it’s more a reflection of the unrealistic testing regulators use for all cars. That said, I never expected something like this scandal from VW. I hope they work hard on cleaning up their act, as a repeat of the scandal could endanger the company’s existence.

5) My view on alternative drivetrains hasn’t changed. The alternative drivetrains have their own issues. The batteries used in electric cars don’t work well in all conditions and have reliability issues. Also, electric cars only make sense if the electricity used to charge them come from renewable sources and in that sense we still have a long way to go.

Photovoltaic solar power field at Volkswagen plant in Chattanooga, Tennessee

Photovoltaic solar power field at Volkswagen plant in Chattanooga, Tennessee

Furthermore, I think the improvements made in gasoline drivetrains over the years are worthwhile. I still think gasoline is the best alternative to diesel at present. Gasoline engines now emit much lower CO2 than they used to, and they have much lower nitrogen oxides compared to diesels. Therefore, one shouldn’t neglect advances in gasoline engines.

Christine, university student

1) VW cheated on emission tests by installing software in its cars that was designed to ensure that during tests the emission rate is lower than the car would normally emit outside of testing. The company did this to avoid the strict standards used in America.

2) It is not good for the German industry because it damages the image of the trustworthy products that German firms have cultivated over the years.

3) I think the coverage of the topic here was sufficient and the tone neutral.

2015 Volkswagen Golf TDI SE

2015 Volkswagen Golf TDI SE

4) No, because I think lot of companies cheat on standards and usually get away with it. You never know if what you are buying is genuine.

5) Yes. I would prefer an electric car If I could afford one. I think there should be increased investment in electric cars, because no matter how low the emissions of diesel cars gets they will always be more harmful to the environment than electric cars.

Volkswagen plant

Volkswagen plant

Andre, policeman

1) One of the world’s biggest companies was caught making fools of their customers. There is nothing new about this and no major surprise. It is probably happening everywhere on a daily basis.

2) I know from a friend of mine who was doing an internship with VW before she finished her business degree, that the company had promised to take her on after she had finished her studies, but then it withdrew from that promise due to the scandal. So I’m guessing VW must be in some major trouble if it can’t even take on a new hire like this.

CHECK OUT: How Will VW Fix My Diesel Car, And When? A List Of All Models

3) I don’t follow the German mainstream media. They all repeat the same [obscenity].

4) Maybe. But I’m more of a fan of BMW or Mercedes-Benz so my next car is likely to be from one of those brands.

5) No. I’ve already looked into alternative powertrains and have determined they are not for me. Perhaps later as the technology improves I will change my mind.

Consumer Reports tests 2015 Volkswagen Jetta TDI diesel in 'cheat mode,' October 2015 [video frame]

Consumer Reports tests 2015 Volkswagen Jetta TDI diesel in 'cheat mode,' October 2015 [video frame]

Daniel, journalist

1) VW’s former Chairman Ferdinand Piech pressured a few key people to produce impossible things and at the same time boost sales in the U.S. through the promotion of “clean diesel” technology. The pressure was due to Piech’s desire to see VW reach its goal of becoming the world’s biggest automaker.

2) For VW, the issue is very serious. The company was considered untouchable before. Its people, its brands, its cars--everything. Only now that VW has been caught cheating, the company is much more open and honest. This is very wrong.

For the German industry and car buyers, I don’t see the scandal having much of an effect. Those involved do their best they can to hide the truth.

2015 Volkswagen Golf TDI

2015 Volkswagen Golf TDI

3) I feel the mainstream media, especially the automotive media here in Germany, is afraid of harming its relationship with a giant like VW, particularly in the case of future advertising deals. The result, I feel, is that the media acts like a friend to VW and tries to hide or downplay a lot of the issues.

4) No. VW still makes a lot of great products. And although some of them are quite boring, they are still good, practical vehicles that are very reliable. I also feel that the whole company shouldn’t be blamed because of a small group pressured by a central authority like the Chairman Piech. People make mistakes. It is only human.

5) Regardless of the scandal, I feel hybrid and battery-electric cars will still take at least a decade to become mainstream. I will still drive diesel-powered cars because I love them.

Volkswagen plant

Volkswagen plant

Heike, housewife

1) VW manipulated software on its cars that made their emissions look better than they actually were.

2) I don’t think the issue is that major. Many people are dependent on VW products and will stick with those products as they are still the best, even after the diesel scandal.

3) There hasn’t been much reporting on the topic. There could have been more.

READ THIS: EPA To Demand More Electric Cars From VW To Settle Diesel Scandal: Report

4) No, because no one tells the truth. Everyone is lying to you to sell their products.

5) No. I have heard about difficulties with hybrid and electric cars. I have heard about problems with reliability as well as the lack of recharging infrastructure. I think diesel and gasoline are still the most practical and safest fuels at present.

2014 Volkswagen Touareg TDI

2014 Volkswagen Touareg TDI

And just for a bit of contrast, we included a response from a Volkswagen owner in the U.S.

Gary, American VW owner

1) VW’s four-cylinder diesels have software that defeats some emission controls during normal driving. The affected controls only operate correctly when the OBDII port is being read. As a result NOx emissions are very high during normal driving. The fix will undoubtedly reduce performance and fuel economy.

I don't know exactly what is going on with the six-cylinder diesels, like the one in my VW Touareg TDI. However, my vehicle only uses about 12 liters of AdBlue (fluid designed to reduce NOx via selective catalytic reduction) in 16,000 kilometers, so I suspect the selective catalytic reduction is being affected to reduce AdBlue consumption. I don't know what else might be going on.

3) I think this is very serious. Failed trust is very hard to overcome. It is very hard to build a successful brand image, but very easy to destroy a brand by a scandal like this. I suspect VW will weather the storm in Europe, but the brand may be destroyed here in the U.S. As an affected owner, I feel that I am a victim of fraud.

I have only followed a bit of the German coverage, but what I have seen has been similar to U.S. coverage. The German coverage has made clear how big the stakes are for the German people and the economy.

2012 Volkswagen Passat TDI Six-Month Road Test

2012 Volkswagen Passat TDI Six-Month Road Test

From a U.S. perspective, the scandal is made even worse because of the German state government’s partial ownership of VW, and the very close relationship among management, labor and the government.

4) Absolutely, it will. I will never buy another VW product. I love my Touareg TDI. It is one of the best cars I have ever owned and I have no intention of selling it any time soon, but no more VWs for me. Why? Because this was criminal fraud in my opinion.

5) Yes. Here in the U.S. we don't have many diesel cars to choose from largely due to U.S. policy (e.g., fuel taxes). I have no interest in hybrid or electric cars at this time. People are amazed that I pull a 2,500 kilogram trailer with my VW, with far better fuel economy than a traditional truck. No electric car could ever have the capability of a diesel. A hybrid might though.

I am afraid the VW scandal has killed any future potential for diesels here. My VW dealer's lot is half empty. I don't know where he is hiding all the diesels that he can't sell. Sad.


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