Opinion: Our sweet ride has turned sour
MIDDLEBURY — In June of this year I became a very proud owner of a 2013 Volkswagen Jetta SportWagen TDI.
Our search for a vehicle was long and arduous. The cars in our driveway had always been at least 10 years old and only moderately reliable. But we were getting tired of the trips to the mechanic’s and the “adventure” of possible breakdowns everywhere we went.
With a Toyota Tacoma pick-up for weekend warrior projects and four-wheel drive, we focused on something that was more compact and could achieve better fuel efficiency.
The VW “clean diesel” engines seemed like just the ticket. They were peppy and fun to drive, while supposedly burning so efficiently that they achieved relatively low emissions ratings and great fuel efficiency.
To seal the deal, our dream car showed up at car dealership in Middlebury as a gently used trade, which meant that we could purchase the car locally without compromising any of the items on our “wish list.”
Our “good citizen” points were really racking up.
In fact, we felt so great about the whole package that we couldn’t keep our mouths shut about it and found ourselves boasting about our new car and feeling like heroes as we watched the miles per gallon average hover between 42 and 57 mpg even just driving around town.
We encouraged friends and family members to look into converting to a similar car, convinced that this was the way of the future.
Well, I sure hope it isn’t.
As I’m surely not the first one to break it to you, Volkswagen lied.
Through a very sneaky loophole they were able to trick the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and other environmental regulatory bodies such as the California Air Resources Board (CARB) using a “defeat device” within their vehicle software that detects when emissions tests are being conducted. During the tests the vehicles present very low emissions and pass standards easily, while out on the roads the engines realistically produce between 15 and 40 times allowable limits of pollutants like the smog-forming nitrogen oxides (NOx).
An estimated 11 million vehicles worldwide are equipped with this deceitful software, with over 480,000 of them in the United States.
Why’d they do it? While it’s hard to know the motives exactly, it’s true that in the last decade standards for both fuel efficiency and low emissions have risen sharply in the U.S. due to increased exposure and attention from government officials and consumers (like me) who demand both.
Volkswagen’s diesel engines have been a popular alternative to their gasoline counterparts for several decades in Europe, thanks to their fuel economy. In Europe, emissions standards were historically relaxed for diesel engines in exchange for the increased fuel efficiency, but they’ve also paid the price in cities like Paris that now suffer major smog problems.
In the U.S., by contrast, stringent rules on pollutants had limited car manufacturers from widely marketing cars with diesel engines because they were not able to meet these standards.
Around 2009 diesel technology experienced a kind of breakthrough due to a combination of lower-sulfur fuel, more advanced engines and new emission-control technologies that could together allow them to release what’s become known as “clean diesel” cars that — in theory — transcend the struggle between performance and pollution.
Clearly, consumers were encouraged by these claims, and vehicles with turbo-charged, direct injection (TDI) engines from Volkswagen have become relatively popular.
The dirty truth was publicized less than a month ago, following more private investigations led by the EPA, CARB and an independent group called the International Council on Clean Transportation, during which these groups worked to expose why lab tests on TDI vehicles were so drastically different than road tests for the last several years.
As the scandal has unfolded, questions and concerns remain at every level.
The U.S. Department of Justice is considering criminal charges, the EPA has charged Volkswagen with deliberately violating the Clean Air Act, fines will surely be in the tens of billions of dollars to the company and consumer loyalty to the brand has all but vanished.
Those of us with vehicles still in the driveway are watching this unfold nervously, unsure of the exact effect on our cars and our lives. Just as I’m sure thousands of others are, I’m left with a flurry of emotions and a mess of questions that no one knows yet how to answer.
I’m angry — at simply having been lied to.
I’m hurt — because we were betrayed by an entity that we thought we could trust.
I’m frustrated — that we had tried so hard to do the right thing only to learn that it actually had an opposite effect.
I’m embarrassed — at having assumed the role of advocate on behalf of a company that was just trying to profit from us the whole time.
I’m overwhelmed — because now we have to manage the fallout and ensure that we are individually and as a group taken care of.
The anger encourages me to join class action lawsuits (like tens of thousands of Americans have) and write letters, demand answers and push more stringent regulatory legislation.
But the overwhelming sense of betrayal also makes me want to recede into a cave. Why is it allowed for corporate executives who knowingly commit fraud on such a massive scale to simply resign from the company with their many millions and let the corporation handle the blowout? Shouldn’t there be some kind of personal accountability for these actions, or is their “apology” really enough?
While I certainly can’t proclaim to know any more than anyone else, one thing that I have found cathartic in the last couple of weeks since this story has broken is talking to other VW owners in similar positions.
In the end I feel like a gullible sucker. But at least I’m a sucker who was trying to do good, and I guess that’s better than someone who’s sucking the good out of others.
How about you? If you’re a fellow sucker and want to share your thoughts or feedback, we’d love to hear from you. Visit this story on our website at www.addisonindependent.com and share in the conversation. Together we just may get somewhere.
Editor’s note: Christy Lynn is the advertising manager at the Addison Independent and the owner of a 2013 VW Jetta SportWagen TDI.
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