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Volkswagen’s current mood = :(

Oh, Volkswagen.

I guess I shouldn’t feel disappointed in companies that disgrace themselves anymore, buuuuut. (This is all a lot easier to take if you believe that corporations really are people too, in which case discovering that they occasionally lie and disappoint you should not come as too much of a shock.)

Thus far – based on my rudimentary understanding of how these thing should go down from a PR standpoint – Volkswagen has been doing all the “right” things. We’ve seen the abject public apology, funds are set aside to handle the fallout, and of course the necessary sacrificial lamb has been offered up in the form of CEO Martin Winterkorn. I’m left wondering, however, what I always wonder when this kind of thing happens: Wouldn’t it just have been easier to do the right thing in the first place?

In skimming over the vast – and I mean vast – laundry list of consequences this could have for Volkswagen, Audi, Porsche, Bentley, and oh I don’t know, Germany, as well as any number of car dealers, mechanics and resellers, what I’m still struggling to understand is why you would try to pull off such an amazingly bold deception. Was it too hard to make a low-emissions car? Was there a budget or a time crunch or some other arbitrary roadblock or deadline that could not, even in this seemingly exceptional circumstance, be navigated around? Or do you just not believe in your product?

It seems amazing that a company with the influence and resources of Volkswagen would find it necessary to fudge something, especially something so top-of-mind for so many consumers. Sure, there are plenty of people who don’t recycle and would happily sit in their driveways and rev a V12 all the livelong day, but Earth-friendliness is something upon which many companies hang their marketing hat these days. What you’ve essentially done is make people feel bad about what they bought. You’ve gone and caused 11 million and counting cases of buyer’s remorse and if you think the impact on the bottom line is depressing now, well.

I have to imagine this will also be at least a little bit bad for carmakers in general, because it only increases the distrust and anxiety many people feel when they buy a car. Or maybe the marketing team for Toyota is already in a conference room discussing how to make hay out Volkswagen’s terrible, horrible, no-good very bad day.

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