One of the juicier corporate indignities to come out of the mid-2010s, the history of the Volkswagen emissions scandal is a story of deception, carelessness, greed, and punishment. The company leveraged a high-tech piece of software to skirt through environmental regulations.
The fallout of this mistake damaged the company’s reputation, possibly beyond total rehabilitation.
In September of 2015, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) discovered that many Volkswagen (VW) cars in America contained a “defeat device.” Essentially, VW installed this piece of software so that the cars could cheat emissions tests. The software monitored engine operation, speed, steering wheel placement, and air pressure to detect when it was being tested.
During tests, it then falsely lowered the vehicle’s emissions to receive the EPA’s approval. VW admitted this cheat was involved in over 10 million cars across the world. It would cost the company billions and lead to one of the largest recalls of all time.
VW Chairman Hans Dieter announced on December 10, 2015 that the company cheated on the emissions tests because they could not create the ecologically friendly cars they wanted to within the same “time frame and budget.” He acknowledged “a mindset in some areas of the company that tolerated breaches of the rules.” In other words, VW decided to go with a dishonest, cheaper approach—one of the most common mistakes that lead to a recall.
The history of the Volkswagen emissions scandal ended in total embarrassment for the company. Over 10 million vehicles were recalled, costing the company over $15 billion. Nine managers were suspended, and it took the company several years to recover.
VW is now a brand synonymous with lies and greed. The company will not easily live down its shortsightedness, selfishness, and callousness. Furthermore, the exposure of this recall has led to several other emissions cheating scandals with companies including Daimler, General Motors, Mitsubishi, and Suzuki.