Since the publication of a report by the US Environmental Protection Agency showing that Volkswagen was using software to cheat on emissions tests, requiring to call in some half a million vehicles, the German carmaker’s share price has fallen by 22 percent (a loss of around €16 million). What’s more, the company’s CEO, who has fessed up and apologized, is under investigation now by the Health Department for endangering public health, as well as by the Commerce Department for lying about its vehicles, and for good measure, the Justice Department has weighed in, and is looking at possible criminal behavior. At the same time, investors and car owners are pondering possible class actions, cars are being withdrawn from dealers in countries like Canada, while governments around the globe are carrying out their own investigations, from as far afield as South Korea to Australia, and even Germany, where the industry minister has called on the company for clarification, accusing it into the bargain of damaging the reputation of the country’s manufacturers.
This is, far and away, the most serious threat a carmaker has ever faced, and has exploded in the world’s biggest automobile company shortly after it took the crown from Toyota. There is nothing to be said to explain, excuse, or remedy this: and much less by saying that cheating on emissions tests is the norm in car prototypes, or that the requirements are too stringent and impossible to meet anyway, or that this was a mistake. This is a matter that combines a threat to public health (making cars that exceed emissions limits by forty times), cheating customers (selling cars on the basis of features that don’t apply if the law is to be obeyed), misleading advertising (using the argument of respect for the environment), and all with the utmost premeditation (creating software specially for the purpose of cheating emissions tests).
About the only good to come out of this will be providing business schools with one of the juiciest case studies in corporate social responsibility. Or should that be corporate social irresponsibility?
Creating software to detect when your cars are being emissions tested and that then switches the car to low emissions for the duration of the examination, and then returns said vehicle to a state whereby it pumps out 40 times the legal limit: what could go wrong? Click on some of the links above and you’ll see exactly what happens when you misuse software.
(En español, aquí)