The chief executive has resigned, the stock price has tanked, the credit rating has dropped, and the fines and class-action lawsuits are beginning. Not quite two months after the news that Volkswagen had been cheating for years on emission tests for its diesels, consumers are beginning to extract their pound of flesh.
Let the penance begin. It’s no exaggeration to say the world as we know it depends on the ratcheting down of greenhouse gases. Climate change has wrought havoc, and the need to stop man-made global warming is beyond urgent.
Yet – after selling motorists worldwide on the supposed miracle of “clean diesel” – Volkswagen spewed untold filth into the air and then lied about it, intentionally rigging its cars to underreport carbon dioxide emissions. The deception literally was a crime against nature, not to mention a fraud on consumers, and it might well still be going on had the California Air Resources Board and others not put a stop to it.
Now the people’s carmaker is trying to soften the people’s hearts with an offer of $500 in cash to diesel vehicle owners, plus another $500 in store credit and free 24-hour road assistance for three years, no strings attached, even for those who are suing.
A “goodwill package,” VW calls it. We agree with Sens. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., and Edward J. Markey, D-Mass., who call the offer a “fig leaf” and “insultingly inadequate.”
At the very least, VW should buy back its dirt-bombs and compensate the owners for the damage done to their vehicles’ resale value. And while they’re at it, the company should give its dealerships something better with which to fend off angry customers than a fistful of meager coupons and discounts.
Rick Niello, president of The Niello Co. in Sacramento, told a Sacramento Bee editorial board member last week that the scandal has left his dealerships holding some $2 million worth of unsellable and non-street-legal diesels. “Other than that,” he ruefully said, “everything is beautiful.”
Volkswagen may end up being a model citizen compared with such greenhouse gas giants as ExxonMobil. At least VW admitted its wrongdoing. And unlike revelations about faulty GM ignition switches and unintended acceleration in Toyotas, this product scandal didn’t involve lost lives.
But the road to redemption is long, and VW has many more miles to cover. Every week seems to raise new questions about some aspect of its operations. In that context, a fistful of gas money, even as a “goodwill package,” doesn’t even amount to a decent start.