Mountain Wheels: Volkswagen’s deception rocks the auto world (column) |

Mountain Wheels: Volkswagen’s deception rocks the auto world (column)

Volkswagen workers assemble components of the mid-size Passat at the company’s factory in Chattanooga, Tennessee during the author’s 2011 visit.
Andy Stonehouse / special to the daily |

At this point, there’s not much that you Volkswagen enthusiasts — plaintiffs, as you may also be known in the future — have not already voraciously read about one of the most disheartening episodes in recent automotive history.

It has not been a great month for the reputation of the car business, General Motors’ own scandalous troubles and Chrysler’s recall issues fresh in our minds, but the VW fiasco really does take the strudel.

And as someone who has, despite conventional wisdom, written dozens and dozens of reviews in the last decade trumpeting the value and — dear God, the eco-friendly virtues — of Volkswagen’s diesel-engined automobiles, versus hybrid or other conventional choices, I too feel pretty let down after this last week’s news.

In a quick summary of the zillion or so words written, often by the same sort of auto-savvy news outlets that didn’t know you could actually buy the Pope-friendly Fiat 500X in the United States, I have gleaned a few salient points.

First, for those of you who do own a recent vintage TDI model of Volkswagen or Audi’s automobiles, the good news is that there is nothing inherently dangerous about your car. Unlike other vehicles involved in this summer of bad news, your air bags will not injure you when they go off – or potentially not go off at all, nor will loose wires burn your car to the ground. The biggest immediate issue among the TDI faithful is the sinking feeling in your heart, knowing that the company you personally championed like an underdog deceitfully manipulated your car’s emissions computers to skirt the testing process. Your clean diesel is not quite as clean as you were told; not toxic, per se, but certainly not goods as sold.

This is particularly bad news for the larger future of diesel in America, despite a summer where we’ve seen diesel priced below that of regular gas — as it probably should be, and always was before the turn of this most recent century.

American emissions standards are rigorous for a reason, and that’s why other efficient and futuristic diesels, sold in the millions overseas, skill don’t show up here. The diesel engine-powered Mazda6 never materialized, and besides the low-volume Chevy Cruze or the more expensive systems found in BMW, Audi and Mercedes (mostly using a urea system to really scrub the exhaust), diesel for passenger cars is still a rarity in the U.S.

And probably will be more of a dark horse in the eyes of American consumers, with the exception of big trucks and SUVs. So it goes.

I’ve read that the cost of retrofitting your still-new VW/Audi TDI with properly conforming equipment might run in the $7,000 range per vehicle, prompting me to suspect that you’re going to be getting a lot of mail from the Germans in the coming weeks. They may even offer to buy back your car completely, which is a major bummer, as I know you really like your VW TDI, and enjoy the 50-or-so MPG you get on a daily basis, and all of the snappy torque to fly past out-of-state tourons when you fly up the Eisenhower Tunnel.

How Volkswagen works that all out with you, the consumer, will be one of the most interesting episodes in automotive history. As said, your car isn’t going to kill anyone in the meantime, so take your time and see what they offer as a fix. Ask some serious questions.

The bigger issue raised by all of this is the basic trust that we all have – or may not have – in the good faith and honesty of incredibly huge companies. Even worse when you’re someone like myself, who tries to truthfully and efficiently give you an overall snapshot of your potential experience with a very expensive and potentially long-term investment.

A column this week in Yahoo Autos put it succinctly: “We all need to be a bit more skeptical and do some deeper digging on the overall safety and environmental claims offered by automakers, as much of that data is self-supplied. I hope I can adopt more of that approach in the future. As car buyers, I would suggest you do the same yourselves. “

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