Volkswagen should be driven off the map

Monday 28 September 2015

Blimey, and I thought the East End second-hand car dealer who flogged me my first sports car was dodgy.

Perhaps “Bent Brian” (as I later discovered he was known in the trade) went on to hone his little scams at Volkswagen. Like VW today, Brian was extremely fond of engine additives, and their power to dupe mugs like me.

A month after I’d driven my shiny Triumph Spitfire off the forecourt, everything running smoothly, it began to sound like there was a smithy’s forge under the bonnet – loud metallic knocking where the big ends had long gone; steam rising in clouds as the ruined radiator re-sprung ancient leaks.

Brian’s oil thickeners and coolant additives had masked all that for a couple of hundred miles. When I returned to the railway arch where he plied his trade to demand my money back, Brian had, as the bloke in the neighbouring lockup told me, “had it away on his toes”. At least VW’s not going anywhere soon, is it?

Unlike its executives, who may well find themselves in big trouble. I hope so. Today’s dodgy back-street car traders must be lost in admiration at VW’s sheer brass-necked ingenuity. Yes, everyone realised that all car manufacturers’ official figures for what’s pumped out from the back of their exhausts bears little relation to reality, like their exaggerated claims on fuel consumption – we’re not idiots.

We all knew there was a blend of wishful thinking and statistical spin going on. But we didn’t think we were being actively conned or lied to. And now we know that we were. For years. Big time. Since God knows when (we’ll find out) VW has been deliberately secreting a tiny fragment of software that sleeps deep in its diesel engines.

It only wakes up when the car’s on-board computer detects that an official emission test is underway. Then it squirts a special chemical into the diesel that massively (but only temporarily) masks the toxins. Bingo. Test passed, certificate stamped.

But out of the test laboratory and on actual roads, the cheating widget goes back to sleep and the poison gushes out. It’s not just staggeringly dishonest – it demonstrates a breathtaking, cavalier contempt for public health. (Breathtaking being the operative word – thanks to VW’s perfidy, people with respiratory disorders will have experienced worsened symptoms and some may have died as a result.)

I have long argued that reflex, tiresome anti-capitalist mantra from the likes of Jeremy Corbyn (you know; huge multinationals are inherently evil and corrupt and greedy) is ridiculous; all loopy conspiracy theory and neo-communist claptrap.

And then something like this happens to prove they have a point. An authentic example of naked corporate corruption that beggars belief. Hence the need for condign punishment, and the harsher the better. Pour encourager les autres.

Read Richard and Judy's column for the Express here.
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