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Konrad Werner: Why is Germany ignoring the VW scandal?

Is Volkswagen a German company or not? You'd never think so from the way the media and politicians are treating the story.

Image for Konrad Werner: Why is Germany ignoring the VW scandal?
“Lateral view VW Golf TDI clean diesel at the 2010 Washington Auto Show” by Mario Roberto Duran Ortiz is licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0

A lot of bad things are happening to Volkswagen in other countries. The latest one is that South Korea’s environment ministry rejected Volkswagen’s second plan for dealing with the diesel emissions scandal, because they said VW didn’t offer any software that would solve the problem, or adequately explain what had gone wrong. This comes after South Korea rejected the first plan in January and announced it was filing criminal charges against the head of Korean VW + Audi.

Meanwhile in the USA, VW (apart from having to recall 5600 e-cars over a “stalling problem”, as well as 800,000 SUVs over a “pedal problem”) is facing lawsuits from angry car dealers – and whole states – who invested millions in the reliability of German engineering. Not only that, 600,000 Americans who own Volkswagens are getting a $1000 compensation package, as are the British VW owners (because the UK’s Department of Transport said it wasn’t fair that only US consumers were getting anything).

But what about the German VW drivers? Where’s their “generous” compensation deal? After all, they actually drive the most of these poisonous Volkswagens (2.8 million of the 11 million cars affected worldwide), some of which were recorded in the US going 20-40 times over the legal limit for nitrogen oxide, a gas that can give you emphysema and bronchitis and heart problems and causes acid rain.

The US law firm Hausfeld LLP has offered to negotiate with Volkswagen on behalf of European VW owners for compensation, (this story was reported in the US, but not in any German papers). But VW isn’t that bothered. Why? Because it doesn’t need to – even though the federal automobile authority (KBA) is supposedly testing Volkswagens all the time in road conditions, but, unlike South Korea, it says it still hasn’t finished. The recalls in Germany haven’t even begun.

And it’s not only VW. Last December, ZDF aired a documentary which showed that Mercedes and BMW diesel cars were testing much higher for nitrogen oxide on roads than when they were on test rollers (and the testing scientists tell us this could only happen with cheat software) – but the government has failed to do anything about it. Instead, there has been zero political pressure, zero media pressure, and therefore zero public pressure. So much for environmentally conscious Germany. The German media does no more than dutifully report every scandal abroad – as if it’s somehow a foreign story. There have been no calls for criminal prosecution of anyone at VW in Germany, while the Korean prosecutors are raiding VW headquarters. Huh, those foreigners have a problem with our cars? Funny, yeah?

Listen to Konrad get annoyed about other things, on his weekly German news podcast with US comedian Drew Portnoy: