As the wheels keep coming off Volkswagen, PETER FROST looks back in history to chart the company’s involvement with the nazis and schemes to swindle German workers out of their savings
The worsening Volkswagen emissions fraud scandal is just the tip of a huge iceberg. The international motor industry, along with the oil business, has always been the backbone of the climate change deniers.
Now Volkswagen has been forced to admit that a million and a quarter Volkswagen, Skoda, Audi and Seat cars have been sold — complete with the emissions test cheating software — to British motorists and at least a further 11 million of those vehicles worldwide.
We now know that, despite assurances from official British motor industry body the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT) there are at least 1.25m cars and vans on British roads fitted with chips that allow them to fraudulently pass emissions tests.
When air-quality campaigners called for the British government to launch an inquiry into whether cars on Britain’s roads also broke the rules, the SMMT insisted that cars sold in Britain “comply with strict European laws.
“This is,” they said, “an issue affecting just one company and there is no evidence to suggest that any other company is involved, let alone that this is an industry-wide issue.”
However, consumer journalists and official bodies are now turning the spotlight on other manufacturers, some of who have undoubtedly used the same kind of software to distort emissions figures for their diesel cars.
Motorists in the US, Germany and in Britain are preparing legal action seeking compensation for being sold so-called clean diesels cars that actually pumped out poisonous particles at levels far higher than the official test results indicated.
Those pollutants cause heart disease, asthma and other respiratory diseases. They kill people yet the mainstream media seems more concerned about the fall in Volkswagen’s share price and how the company will get itself back to a profitable trading position.
VW boss Martin Winterkorn may be under investigation for criminal fraud but when he resigned he picked up a €21m pension pot and an undisclosed, but undoubtedly huge, severance package.
He had been in charge of the Volkswagen top management and technical engineers who had surreptitiously fitted their diesel engine cars with sophisticated software to switch engines to a cleaner mode when they were undergoing official emissions testing.
This is a type of software known as a defeat device. Once on the road and being driven normally the software allows the cars to produce nitrogen oxide pollutants at up to 40 times the legal standard.
Olaf Lies, a Volkswagen board member and economy minister of Lower Saxony, has admitted that some staff acted criminally over emissions tests.
Volkswagen have now brought in a new top boss Matthias Mueller. Mueller previously headed the Porsche division of Volkswagen and historically the Porsche family are one of VW’s biggest shareholders.
Indeed it was Ferdinand Porsche who designed the first Volkswagen — the “people’s car” — for Adolf Hitler and the Nazi Party.
Hitler would have been very proud of Volkswagen today as it has grown into the biggest motorcar manufacturer in the world when earlier this year it overtook Toyota.
They build not just VW cars but also Audi, Bentley, Bugatti, Lamborghini, Porsche, Seat and Skoda cars and even Ducati motorbikes and a huge range of commercial vehicles.
Ironically the birth and early growth of Volkswagen was also based on an enormous fraud. Hitler and the nazis sold German workers savings stamps in a giant swindle.
Once you had saved the required number of stamps you were promised a Volkswagen Beetle — 300,000 German workers fell for the scam. They believed the nazi propaganda: “Five marks a week you must put aside, if you want to drive your own car.”
None were ever delivered. Except for just one, to Hitler himself on his birthday. Instead the money was siphoned off to fund the construction of military vehicles for the nazi war effort.
And as if that wasn’t bad enough those military vehicles were built by mainly Russian and Italian slave labour — much of it female — who were selected from concentration camps conveniently close to the VW works.
More recently Volkswagen has also been criticised by motoring and consumer journalists for their far from accurate marketing slogan: “If only everything in life was as reliable as a Volkswagen.”
In fact independent surveys have seldom rated Volkswagen’s reliability very high. This year’s J D Power survey, for instance, rates VW only as the ninth most reliable of popular car marques.
The diesel emissions scandal is just one part of how the motor manufacturers are allowed to get away with cheating.
Each new car sold is supposed to have an official fuel economy figure. These have long been considered a joke by motorists. We know that, even without cheating software, car makers can easily massage the official fuel consumption figures.
Here are just some of the cheats the regulations allow. They tape up the cracks and joints in car panels, thus making the car more aerodynamic, they disconnect the alternator saving power, they use much thinner oil and run on unrealistically high tyre pressures to reduce rolling resistance.
Add to that choosing perfect test conditions and exaggerated economic driving techniques allow manufacturers to come up with miles-per-gallon figures no ordinary driver can ever hope to reach.
Even the Department for Transport (DfT) has admitted: “We are all aware that the current test procedure is outdated and tends to underestimate fuel consumption and emissions from modern vehicles.”
Arthur Daley, the world’s most dishonest car dealer, is alive and well it seems. But this time he is heading up the global giants of the motor trade.
This article first appeared in the Morning Star 13 November 2015