Wasn’t it just yesterday (or 10 months ago) that we received this “confidential memo” from the Volkswagen diesel cheating crisis management team? It noted, in part:
This week, ALEC officially launched a web site about what state lawmakers can do to immunize corporate lawbreakers like us. Can you feel a smile coming on?
Granted, that was all tongue-in-cheek - but it now seems kinda prescient!
Turns out that the state attorneys general of New York and Massachusetts have now sued the company following a massive investigation. As reported by the New York Times, these offices have uncovered evidence that “directly challenged Volkswagen’s defense over its emissions deception, calling the decision to thwart pollution tests an orchestrated fraud that lasted more than a decade, involved dozens of engineers and managers and reached deep into the company’s boardroom.”
Writes the Times, “the New York civil complaint, drawing on internal Volkswagen documents, emails and witness statements, depicts a corporate culture that allowed a ‘willful and systematic scheme of cheating,’ according to an advance copy of the suit.” And, "[f]or the first time, the New York complaint connects Volkswagen’s chief executive, Matthias Müller, to the scandal.” You may remember Müller as the guy who replaced that other guy, i.e., scapegoat CEO Martin Winterkorn, who quit in September. Although both deny any wrongdoing, the AGs found:
Mr. Müller and Mr. Winterkorn were informed in 2006 that Audis with 3-liter diesel engines needed additional equipment to meet American standards. Specifically, they needed a larger tank to hold the chemical solution used to neutralize nitrogen oxide emissions in the exhaust.
But Volkswagen and Audi, the complaint said, did not want to spend the money necessary to redesign the cars to accommodate larger tanks. Instead, the company decided to deploy defeat devices. Both Mr. Winterkorn and Mr. Müller held senior positions at the Audi unit at the time.…
Soon after, Volkswagen began preparing for a marketing offensive in the United States built around diesel. Internal Volkswagen documents said that diesel would be used to create an “environmental halo” over the brand.
The “clean diesel” advertising, according to the complaint, was false and part of the fraud Volkswagen perpetrated on consumers.
Here are some other highlights:
- The complaint, in part, cited a tongue-in-cheek Audi commercial broadcast in 2010 that portrayed people being arrested by the “Green Police” for installing incandescent light bulbs, overheating their swimming pools or failing to compost. At the end, the Green Police inspect cars at a roadblock, waiving through a driver in an Audi A
- After “engineers at West Virginia University published a study in which two unidentified diesel cars were found to have polluted up to 40 times more on highways than they did under laboratory conditions … there was widespread alarm" inside the company. That led to a 17-month “campaign to ‘mislead and confuse’ regulators and the public.” When California regulators got involved, “executives’ emails ‘began to reflect desperation and panic'” with “one executive, facing questions from suspicious California officials about the functioning of the emissions system, wrote to co-workers, ‘Come up with the story, please!’”
Gotta wonder how/why Volkswagen thought it would never get caught. Perhaps that’s the scariest question of all.