‘Das Auto.’ or ‘Das Auto?’

Volkswagen’s betrayal of our eco-friendly diesel fairy tale
by Corine Fontijn

WHEN thinking about the Volkswagen group, thoughts used to go in many directions, to the reliable family car that one will own in 20 years or the classic hippie bus. Last month, that changed. Volkswagen has been manipulating tests measuring their diesel engine’s nitrogen oxide emissions, making the cars seem more eco-friendly than they actually are. 11 million diesel cars produced by the German Volkswagen group are said to have manipulated engines, causing public outrage.

The tests were manipulated by in-stalling ‘defeat devices’ in the motor management system of the car, that detect when the car is being tested, and subsequently switch the car into a mode with lower emission, through injecting a shot of emission reducing AdBlue solution. This can lower the de-tected emissions up to 40 times. How-ever, this finding is no novelty.

Investigations into Volkswagen’s (possible) utilization of defeat devices are already going on since 1973, and other companies have done fraudulent actions alike, as proven for example by the 1995 Cadillac crisis. This illustrates the importance of creating a more ‘fraud-proof’ test, perhaps also in the interest of Volkswagen in the future. This scandal had their stock value plummet, as well as the resale value of their diesels, and the legal consequenc-es are numerous.

In the US alone, the Sale of Goods, Supply of Goods, and Clean Air act are violated, and the group fac-es legal proceedings for ‘misrepresen-tation to customers’. The old CEO is facing personal criminal prosecutions, and other domestic courts are also preparing prosecutions. Every country importing Volkswagen could resort to prosecution, an undesirable outcome for the group. This shows the impor-tance of making the test more difficult to manipulate.

The European Commission, in re-sponse to the scandal, says it will in-deed be stricter. The current test was conducted in a laboratory environment, and will be replaced by an on the road test. Newly produced diesels have a maximum of two years to comply to the EU norm of emissions, being 80 mg/km. Effectively, this means that 10% of the currently produced diesels can not be sold anymore and have to change the engine setup. People are currently lining up to have their car’s motor management systems changed, which is estimated to cost 5.6 billion US dollars in total. But the underlying problem that consum-ers and media have is the abuse of trust between producer and consumer. Even when complying with emission stan-dards diesel engines are not the clean-est option for consumers. Yet diesel and gasoline cars are the ones we drive, instead of resorting to more eco-friend-ly options such as Teslas or a Priuses. Of course driving ‘green’ is the highest attainable possible, but paying for it is step two. If a company then gives you the illusion that you drive ‘green’, while it is actually not true, the consumer feels betrayed.

It seems that the phenomenon of ‘greenwashing’, covering the adverse effects on the environment by use of pleasant terminologies and other con-solidations, is actually something we wish for. Being able to buy a relatively clean diesel car, whilst not having to pay more than for a ‘dirty’ one, was too good to be true. The truth is: people are aware of detrimental effects on the en-vironment, but do not necessarily want to act upon it by for example buying a more expensive car. The Volkswagen group now has to pay for facilitating us in greenwashing our ‘bad’ car choice, and has a long way to go to return to their image of reliability, ‘Sicherheit’ and hippie love.

Corine Fontijn, Class of 2017, is a Social Science major from Almere, the Netherlands.

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