Later this month I’ll be at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park test-driving cars that are eligible to win Canadian Car of the Year Awards. Automotive journalists test-drive cars back to back in the same categories. One of the categories I will judge this year is Family Car, the entries are Chevrolet Volt, Chevrolet Malibu, Hyundai Sonata Hybrid and the Volkswagen Golf Sportwagon.
Journalists will have to park all the terrible news about VW when they test the Golf. We will test drive with the burden that the company making cars that many of us like, admitted to cheating US emission tests on a colossal scale. On at least 11 million cars, VW admitted to putting in “defeat devices” on the diesel Golf, Jetta and Passat and Audi A3. The device, which is a software code, makes it so the diesels pass emission requirements during official testing, but when the cars are back on the road the device turns off and the cars emit pollution up to 40 percent higher than the legal limit.
One week after the news broke, VW CEO Martin Winterkorn resigned, and now everyday a new damming story emerges about the scandal. VW is the biggest carmaker in the world, they also own Porsche, Lamborghini, Audi, Bentley, Bugatti, Skoda and Ducati motorcycles. We know how they cheated but the
question is why? Experts speculate that with the pollution controls not operating at the standards set by regulators, the diesel cars have more power and get better mileage. It seems unthinkable that VW would risk everything for those gains. Their stock value dropped 30 percent in the days after the story broke, they face billions of dollars in fines, lawsuits, criminal charges and a massive recall to fix the cars produced from 2009 to 2015.
I bought my first VW, a Beetle in 1971, than a Scirocco in 1977, a Jetta in 2001 and a Golf this year, all with gas engines. Yes I’m in the cult, I’m a believer, I have the badges, buttons and hats. I like them because they are fun to drive and built like a tank. You can really tell how solid they are in the sort of back-to-back comparison driving done at car of the year testing. I really like the Kia’s and Hyundai’s for instance, but when you hop in a VW after testing those cars there is a difference. The way they steer and handle, the way the door sounds when it closes, it feels authentic and like their is a long tradition of building cars for people who like to drive.
VW has been pushing their “clean diesel” to a skeptical North American public for years. I have too. I liked their diesel cars and tried to tell people they didn’t stink and pollute like old diesels. Now we all seem like dupes.
Some of my fellow auto writers at the Toronto Star think the VW scandal will blow over. I’m not so sure.
The leaks are starting to come now, engineers at VW who tried to blow the whistle on the scam in 2011 were disregarded, electronics manufacturer Bosch warned VW in 2007 not to use the testing mode software they made for VW for anything other than internal purposes.
It’s going to get uglier for VW employees, dealers, for people who bought their diesels. The damage to the environment is already done, but continues while a fix is found for those millions of cars.
On top of all this, it’s auto show season. The time when executives tout their new cars. They seem always to be faster, lighter and more fuel-efficient than last year’s models. I don’t know what story VW will be telling because the script is changing rapidly. But the jovial, backslapping, king of the universe aura we usually see at auto shows will be missing from the VW caravan as they face thousands of believers that have been turned into skeptics.
Written by: Kathy Renwald