Gavin Green on VW and #dieselgate, CAR+ December 2015

Published: 29 October 2015

► Gavin Green discusses VW's decision to cut projects
► Non vital projects scrapped: so no Audi F1 team or Le Mans?
► Diesel sales could be killed in America, according to Green 

The Frankfurt Motor Show, as usual, was full of German car company chiefs looking pleased with themselves, apart from BMW’s Harald Krüger who fainted. Expansive and expensive stands promoted the collective industrial might of the world’s most successful car producing nation, including the achievements of the newly crowned number one global car maker, Volkswagen.

Of course the senior people at German car companies are (mostly) very clever and there were some great new concept cars. But sometimes their sense of their own perfection can be trying, so it was something of a relief to have a cup of tea at the end of the first press day with Peugeot’s likeable CEO Carlos Tavares. As we spoke about possible trends, he said: ‘You know anything can happen in this industry – tomorrow morning you may have a big surprise.’ 

Four days later the VW emissions scandal broke and many Volkswagen senior managers suddenly became (to paraphrase Churchill) immodest men who have much to be modest about. How the mighty fall! This wasn’t so much progress through technology, as Vorsprung durch Treachery. There was much schadenfreude from rival French, Italian, American and British car bosses, until they saw their share prices fall too. 

The VW scandal moves fast. As you read this, there may not even be a VW Group. Here are a few observations and predictions.

1. Many owners will ignore the recall. Their ‘fixed’ cars will almost certainly use more fuel and/or be less powerful, no matter what reassuring words VW utter. As the recall is not ‘safety related’, it is not mandatory. So watch those VW recall letters head for the bin… Unless there’s compensation on offer, of course.

2. Despite suggestions that owners of Golf diesels are emitting equivalent toxins to Puffing Billy every time they accelerate, the affected vehicles are still cleaner overall than almost any car more than five years old. 

3. If legislators are serious about NOx and particulates in cities, they should ban most buses, taxis and trucks. 

4. Diesel fumes, even from ‘clean’ EU6 compliant cars, supposedly cause cancer. Then again so does sunshine, wine, coffee, bacon butties, barbecues, coconut oil, pickled vegetables, shift work and ham sandwiches.

5. The Golf was the best mid-sized hatch on sale in early September and it still is today.  So don’t cancel that order.

6. On the other hand, if you ordered a Jetta or Touran and still await delivery, this may be a good excuse to get your money back.

7. The VW Group will no longer splash cash on vanity projects, meaning no Audi F1 team and probably no more Le Mans. 

8. Fiat boss Sergio Marchionne, annoyed by VW taunts about buying Alfa Romeo, will get his revenge and start a rumour that he wants to buy Audi or Porsche – or maybe the whole VW Group. He may even be serious (he tried to buy GM Europe in 2009).

9. The Greeks will be laughing.

10. Greed and megalomania caused VW’s downfall. They were so desperate to be the world’s number one car maker, they cheated. 

11. The availability of good electric cars can’t come soon enough. Anyone who has driven a BMW i3, i8 or Tesla Model S knows this.

12. Diesel sales will continue strongly in Europe, with only a modest dip, at least for another five years.

13. Diesel sales will collapse in America.

14. Environmentalists who urged us to embrace diesels 20 years ago will take no blame. ‘It’s all the fault of multinationals.’  

15. Yet they were right – diesels were the best solution to reducing CO2 in the ’90s, and are still the best short-term solution now. 

16. Americans who now reject fuel-efficient VW diesels will buy over-sized petrol SUVs instead. So that’s real eco progress…

17. Future generations will look back in amazement and wonder how legislators allowed factories and vehicles, burning filthy hydrocarbons (coal, diesel, oil, petrol etc) to poison our air. 

18. CAR legend LJK Setright, a Cicero among we scribblers, will be spinning excitedly in his grave. He always detested diesels.

19. Official mpg and CO2 figures are, of course, a joke. The biggest disparity between real CO2 and official figures is with plug-in hybrids, darlings of the self-righteous. Anyone seriously believe a Cayenne hybrid is cleaner than an Aygo?

20. Finally, German car makers will show great humility at the next Frankfurt Show (I am not confident about this).

By Gavin Green

Contributor-in-chief, former editor, anti-weight campaigner, voice of experience