2016, Mar - Apr
Lost In Translation
By Cliff Leppke
VW’s CEO: ‘We didn’t lie’ on emissions scandal
Sofia Coppola’s film, “Lost in Translation,” depicts two out-of-place Americans in Japan. It ends with a whisper and a kiss. The Americans, Bob and Charlotte, reconciled by magic words that we don’t hear. VW, in contrast, sent its top German executive, Matthias Mueller, to America anticipating that the right words and actions would restore trust in a firm that deceived regulators, dealers and consumers with faux clean-diesel technology. Much at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit in January was lost in translation. In the end, this VW story sounds like Coppola’s first feature film’s title: “Virgin Suicides”—set in a Detroit suburb tainted by Dutch elm disease.
VW’s new German executive lineup (head designer Klaus Bischoff was one carryover face) arrived in the Detroit walking a fine line between company boosterism (sales) and penitence (sorry). Those expecting VW to clear the air on its dirty diesels saw smog. While Mueller said VW was close to a deal with American regulators, talk about a new catalytic converter that would make the grade went up in smoke, at least metaphorically. Days later, both the EPA and California Air Resources Board officially nixed VW’s plan submitted last November.
VW might be headed toward solutions that range from vehicle buybacks to reducing its illegal nitrous oxide levels by employing selective catalytic reduction emission systems on those TDIs without them and then compensating owners to pay for urea injection fluid. The fact that VW didn’t put together a viable fix isn’t surprising; its carefully guarded talk neither promised a quick resolution nor said it had enough time to ensure a viable long-term recall plan that met a variety of requirements.
•GROUP NIGHT FAUX PAS: At VW’s Group Night on the eve of the Detroit show, Mueller took the stage. While his “presser” followed a pre-released text, he embellished a few items. And by the way, VW sold 9.93 million vehicles last year—just so you know. But Mueller deviated from that script during an interview with National Public Radio. His words on NPR caused a firestorm: the emissions problem was technical rather than ethical; that VW didn’t lie.
Here’s the exchange:
NPR: You said this was a technical problem, but the American people feel this is not a technical problem, this is an ethical problem that’s deep inside the company. How do you change that perception in the U.S.?
Mueller: Frankly spoken, it was a technical problem. We made a default, we had a ... not the right interpretation of the American law. And we had some targets for our technical engineers, and they solved this problem and reached targets with some software solutions which haven’t been compatible to the American law. That is the thing. And the other question you mentioned — it was an ethical problem? I cannot understand why you say that.
NPR: Because Volkswagen, in the U.S., intentionally lied to EPA regulators when they asked them about the problem before it came to light.
Mueller: We didn’t lie. We didn’t understand the question first. And then we worked since 2014 to solve the problem. And we did it together and it was a default of VW that it needed such a long time.
NPR later aired a follow-up quoting an apologetic Mueller. But his NPR interview illustrates why VW must deepen its understanding of the U.S. Yep, that bit about misunderstanding is in VW’s official Group Night press release. Sure we’ve heard a similar line from VW before—from the leadership team that brought us an American-built Passat to, say, its American-made Rabbit, you’d think the former top-selling import brand would have a collective memory and institutional know-how. It doesn’t.
After Mueller’s Detroit visit, he went to Washington. A day before that, the California Air Resources Board torpedoed VW’s proposed pollution solution. The plan “was not complete” and was “deficient for several reasons,” CARB chief Richard Corey said. The EPA agrees. Volkswagen AG Chief Mueller met with EPA administrator Gina McCarthy for about an hour.
Mueller pulled out from the EPA courtyard in a black Audi sedan and made no comment. The company issued a short statement acknowledging that Mueller and VW brand chief Herbert Diess met with McCarthy. “Volkswagen will continue to fully cooperate” with regulators, said the company’s statement. The EPA’s email: “We will continue to work toward a solution.”
Meanwhile in February, VW’s poor understanding of the National Highway Safety Administration’s sensitivities regarding potentially defective airbags came to light. We learned that VW resisted recalling Takata-made airbags. VW/Audi’s letter to the NHTSA argues that Takata’s German-made inflators were not implicated in the deadly metal-spewing products Takata produced in the U.S. and Mexico.
Eventually, VW capitulated. It’s recalling various VW and Audi cars built between 2006 and 2014. Driver airbag inflators that don’t have desiccant in them will be replaced. In addition, Continental Corp’s airbags were found to be defective due to corroding electronic control units, affecting 5 million automobiles globally, with models dating to 2006. Its airbags either don’t deploy or activate when they shouldn’t. VW’s Routan is affected by this recall.
Thus, VW didn’t start 2016 on a positive note. Auto writer Jean Lindamood Jennings told the Autoist that her TDI SportWagen is a wonderful car. But why, she laments, did VW wreck diesels for everyone, including the vendors who make diesel system components? In fact, months after VW’s misdeeds made splashy headlines, nearly everything that has followed has only further sullied the brand’s reputation.
In Europe, VW commenced recalling TDIs. The Amarok 2.0-liter Euro 5 truck was first; the Passat is second. Later, versions with smaller displacement TDIs will receive a software update and/or a flow transformer. In the U.S., VW/Audi agreed that its 3.0-liter TDI has an illegal defeat device and proposes to rectify that with a software update that shouldn’t affect engine performance.
At Group Night, your correspondent chatted with several VW insiders. One topic: why VW flubs diesel crisis opportunities. A possibility: important cultural differences. The Autoist then asked German language instructor Theresa Adrian for her take. While she wouldn’t comment on Mueller’s snafu, she says Germans have a different attitude about shaming, have a political system that requires consensus (elections are not a zero sum game, for example), and hold alternative notions of privacy and cooperation.
Even how you talk to someone in German requires language that rigidly recognizes a form of hierarchy and distinguishes whether someone is inside or outside of a group. “Americans,” she says, “might be shocked by some German managerial styles.”
Therefore it’s highly likely that various American state attorneys general might interpret VW as uncooperative or arrogant, when under German law or custom VW’s management thinks it is compliant.
Probing what VW’s management thought represented the key component of Mueller’s Group Night speech proved vexing: “He said what he said,” was management’s terse analysis.
On a brighter note, VW is forging ahead with its American-made midsize crossover. It’s not a clone of the 2013 CrossBlue concept. And my Group Night decaf cappuccino was richly topped with a cocoa-powder VW logo—the handiwork of Elliot Lewkow, aka the Cappuccino Man. VWCA
Cliff Leppke | firstname.lastname@example.org
SPECIAL FEATURE: Convention 2016: It’s time to get movin’
By Shell Tomlin
Have you sent in your registration form for the 61st annual VWCA Convention in Rockford, Ill., on July 8-10?
It may still seem a long way off, but this is likely the last reminder to do so before the deadline on June 20. You can register online through the Club Store on our website, VWClub.org. But be sure to mail in a form so we know where to send your acknowledgement. And the deadline for hotel reservations is even earlier — June 8 — so you’d better do it now.
You’ll want to meet us on Friday evening, July 8 at the Machine Shed Restaurant, 7475 East State Street in Rockford (just west of the I-90 exit) for our pre-convention cruise-in and casual welcoming dinner. This is a favorite location for local car shows, so we want to fill their lot with Volkswagens! Please check this item on the registration form so the restaurant will be fully prepared for us.
Our headquarters hotel, the Holiday Inn, is just across the street, and Meeting Room C, on the lower level, will be the site of our usual Saturday meetings and award banquet and will also serve as our hospitality suite.
After the morning meetings, we’ll depart from the hotel for a cruise/rallye to test your powers of observation and navigational skills while introducing you to some of the more interesting sights around Rockford. We promise to get you back to the Holiday Inn in time for the awards banquet.
And a banquet it will be! Choose from the Chicken Vesuvio, savory Atlantic Salmon or vegetarian Pesto Primavera when filling out your registration. All entrees are served with fresh garden salad with assorted dressings, potato, vegetable, dinner rolls and butter, and coffee or tea. A Chicken Fingers banquet meal is available for children under age 10.
At the banquet we’ll announce the winners of the Eberle Best Local Newsletter Award, the Woodbury Dunn Safety Award and the Wolfsburg Trophy for the most active local chapter. And we’ll also recognize the member who has attended the most conventions, traveled the longest distance to the convention in a VW and brought the oldest Volkswagen to this year’s event.
If you have an interesting collection of VW toys and memorabilia, bring it to Rockford and you may win a prize! Available space is just 2 by 2 feet per entry, so bring only your most fascinating item(s). And if you have an unusual or unique VW-related item, bring that along, too. We’ll select the best one by ballot at the banquet. Note this on the registration form so we’ll have a display space set aside for you.
On Sunday, it’s a short cruise down State Street to Alpine Park to the Stateline Volksfolks’ Vintage Picnic. Remember, it’s not a “car show,” but a picnic where everyone there happens to drive a Volkswagen! Even if you don’t bring your Volkswagen, come to the picnic and enjoy the camaraderie. You’ll see lots of VWs, vie for some door prizes, trophies and a drawing or two. Your registration includes the entry of your VW in the show — er “picnic,” and spectators are always welcome free. Just be sure to bring a picnic lunch, ’cause there’s no food vending allowed in the park.
By the time you read this, the deadlines are drawing near, so be sure to get your registration in promptly. Convention deadline is June 20, but the hotel is busy that weekend and can only hold our block of rooms until June 8.
Shell Tomlin | email@example.com
ALSO IN THIS ISSUE:
- TIGUAN CONCEPT: VW unveils its gasoline-electric in Detroit.
- THE LAST RABBIT: Massachusetts woman has fond memories of her historic purchase.
PLUS OUR REGULAR COLUMNS AND FEATURES:
- Driver's Seat - VW news & views by Cliff Leppke
- Frontdriver – Richard G. Van Treuren
- Small Talk - VW and Audi news - quickly
- Retro Autoist - From the archives
- Parting Shot - Photo feature
- Local Volks Scene - A snapshot of local chapter activities
- VW Toon-ups - Cartoon feature by Tom Janiszewski
LOGGED-IN MEMBERS CAN SEE THE ENTIRE AUTOIST ISSUE BY CLICKING ON THE COVER PHOTO ABOVE.
Mar-May | 2017
Will VW See The Light?
VW once again evokes the memory of the beloved Microbus with its new concept called I.D. Buzz, which created quite a stir at the annual auto show in Detroit. (Photos by Tom Janiszewski)
Jan-Feb | 2017
Joe Mayer says he's not out to punish VW over its diesel scandal - he just wanted to make some extra money on a car he thought would be junked. (Photos by Joe Mayer via jalopnik.com.)
Nov-Dec | 2016
WATTS OF FUN . . . . . . Meet the new e-Golf
Here's the car that, when you give it a charge, you'll get one back. In VW's first important pivot from its diesel scandal, the e-Golf provides an opening salvo in the carmaker's goal to electrify its fleet.
Sep-Oct | 2016
61st Annual Convention
What's an anniversary without a cake? This one didn't go far or last long as Club members enjoyed a variety of activities, including a Sunday car show and picnic, part of the 61st Annual Convention.
Jul-Aug | 2016
It's Time To Show Off
A couple of Karmann Ghias are resplendent at the Michigan Vintage VW Club's Festival in Ypsilanti, Mich. The club held its 29th event in May, while Mid America Motorworks in Effingham, Ill., saluted the air-cooled crowd with a big show in June.
May-Jun | 2016
Windfall for TDI owners?
The scam was on as early as 2008, when this Candy White Jetta TDI Clean Diesel model, embellished with green plant matter, was rolled out. In case anyone had a doubt, VW added the wording "Not a concept car."
Mar-Apr | 2016
Lost In Translation
VW CEO Mattias Mueller was in the hot glare of media lights at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit, providing the company's latest response to the diesel emissions scandal.
Jan-Feb | 2016
VW's Game Plan
VW remains embroiled in a high-stakes game involving government agencies and hundreds of thousands of owners of diesel models. The company's car on the road of Life has taken a big detour.
Nov-Dec | 2015
Engine with a split personality puts VW on the hot seat
The news in September was beyond belief for many VW and TDI enthusiasts: Volkswagen executives admitted that the company intentionally produced cars that violated clean-air laws.
Sep-Oct | 2015
Big bites of fun at the 60th VWCA Convention
Doug Narczewshi from Spring Valley, IL, looks over an assortment of water-cooled VWs on display at NIVA's Bug Fest event, part of the 60th VWCA Convention in suburban Chicago.
Jul-Aug | 2015
1969 Beetle gets a second chance to adorn the silver screen
Crew members working on the film "The Good Blonde" prepare for a shot on the California coast involving a 1969 Beetle owned by VWCA member and correspondent Lois Grace.
May-Jun | 2015
My Mom, the Daredevil
Around 1960, Cliff Leppke had no idea what was in store for him while being ferried about by his mother. Needless to say, his head was up and his eyes were open.
Mar-Apr | 2015
It's Show Time!
The Northeast Illinois Volkswagen Association has an activity-packed weekend planned for the 60th VWCA Convention in suburban Chicago.
Jan-Feb | 2015
Jack Pavie of suburban Philadelphia had to wait several months to get his 1975 Rabbit diesel, one of three models he enjoyed in the '70s and '80s.
Nov-Dec | 2014
Golf Lessons: Three new models charge up hatchback lineup
The scene at the Salamander Resort in Middleburg, Va., where Cliff Leppke and other media members ran the 2015 Volkswagens through their paces.
Sep-Oct | 2014
Having fun with miles per gallon
A morning commute for a 2012 Golf TDI has become a test on how high the fuel mileage will end up. It hit a high mark in July.
In the VWCA's 59 years of Conventions, the setting in Hudson, Mich. was unique. Just ask VWCA's Tom Janiszewski, the guy driving the orange 1974 Camper.
May 25 marks the 15th anniversary of my family's New Beetle ownership experience. It was on that day in 1999 that we took delivery of a brand new red GLS model from Kempthorn Volkswagen in Canton, Ohio.
Mar-Apr | 2014
Dune buggy with a twist at the Detroit Auto Show
There's a saying that everything old is new again, and since the New Beetle's production debut in 1998, that has been the car's underlying theme.
Jan-Feb | 2014
Back At The Ranch
At northern California getaway, Vernon and his family found plenty of ways to enjoy life