Volkswagen cleans up its image, but when will it clean up its cars?
As it has been doing now for months at every major exposition, Volkswagen took advantage of this year’s Paris Motor Show, the main theme of which was definitely electric vehicles, to unveil a new concept car, the Volkswagen I.D., a futuristic looking vehicle that it hopes will distract people’s minds from last year’s emissions scandal, which highlighted the absolute failure of the German carmaker’s corporate social responsibility and business ethics.
The Volkswagen affair is extremely serious. A year later, anybody who suggested that what happened was and is a widespread practice in the industry has been shouted down, since the company is alone in facing criminal charges throughout the world for making cars that exceeded permitted emission limits by up to forty times. After the scandal, the company said it would focus on the development of electric vehicles (it has been rumored that it came under pressure from the US EPA for these electric vehicles to be manufactured in the United States, as part of the negotiations over sanctions)
In August of this year, the company began to spread rumors about its progress in electric vehicles: an as yet unnamed car was being prepared for launch in 2018, with a range of 400 to 600 km per charge, which some pundits say will make Tesla nervous. At the time, the company also presented its plans for the development of a battery megafactory in Europe, as well as the creation of a unit dedicated to strengthening cybersecurity in self-driving vehicles.
Now, at the Paris Motor Show, Volkswagen’s ambitious concept car has been unveiled: electric, self-driving and explained in a futuristic video in which a young woman is collected by the car and the steering wheel retracts to shift to self-driving mode:
Which is all very nice. But is a video and a futuristic concept car whose launch has been delayed to 2020 enough to clean up the image of Volkswagen? Are a concept car and a video enough material to make Elon Musk nervous, particularly when he seems to think that “the more electric cars and the more competition, the better”? Given the absolute lack of ethics revealed by Volkswagen in last year’s scandal, for me the brand can advertise all they like, but until I see plans to put an end to the production of internal combustion vehicles, I won’t believe a word it says.
If Volkswagen wants us to forget what it did, assuming it needs to, the company will have to do more than unveil a concept car and a video: it will have to prove that intends to replace within a reasonably short period the vehicles that characterized its dirty past.
Anything else is just marketing: trying to convince the world that it has suddenly developed a global approach to ecological sustainability, planting trees while putting cars on the road that exceed pollution limits by forty times. We know what Volkswagen’s marketing department is capable of: the company’s ThinkBlue page has not been changed since the scandal broke, despite the evidence that its commitment to the environment was a lousy joke. Although in reality, it is quite possible that the company need not worry unduly: we live in such a deeply disgusting and irresponsible world, that the drop in Volkswagen’s prices due to the scandal has prompted so many people to take advantage that it is now a global leader. Perhaps as a society, we get what we deserve.
(En español, aquí)