July hasn’t been good for the Germans. Or the soap dodgers. Or Italian cars.
Last week the EU hit VW and BMW with $1.3bn of fines because they “illegally colluded to restrict competition on emissions-cleaning technology in diesel cars,” EU Competition commissioner Margrethe Vestager told the world. Merc maker Daimler only avoided getting pinged because the company dobbed on the other two.
Now I realise to many of you a billion dollars sounds like a bit of money. But when you sell a combined $500bn a year worth of metal and your market cap is $290bn then it’s probably not the end of the world. Well, it’s not because VW’s share price took a hit when the decision was announced and the next day screamed up 13 bucks. BMW’s did much the same. Look, Dieselgate has probably cost VW $50bn so far but like most automakers around what passes for a world, they keep on doing it.
You remember Dieselgate. The EPA in the home of the freer than Sydney and Melbourne found VW, makers of Porkers, Audis, Bugattis, Lambos, Bentleys, Scania and many more had intentionally programmed the engine to make the emission controls only work when the cars were being tested. But John, surely they only did it in a few cars? No, 19 readers, one friend but no family, they only did it in over 11 million cars.
A federal grand jury indictment in 2019 says Audi execs realised there wasn’t enough room in the vehicles to meet VW design standards for a large trunk and high-end sound system while holding a big tank for fluid to treat diesel emissions. So, they and co-conspirators designed software to cheat on emissions tests so they could get by with a smaller tank for the fluid.
The music from the high-end sound system was super but nitrogen oxide emissions were up to 22 times above the US limit, the indictment stated.
Volkswagen pleaded guilty in 2016 to criminal charges, a few top execs got the flick, a few down the line people went into permanent lockdown and the rest of the top brass in the universe’s most profitable big carmaker just carried on.
But give me a break. There’s even better behaviour. In 2014 the New York Times reported that in an experiment designed to prove that their new car emissions didn’t cause cancer, the three major German manufacturers, VW, Daimler and BMW, funded the European Research Group on Environment and Health in the Transport Sector to commission the Lovelace Respiratory Research Institute in the US to conduct an experiment that involved a diesel VW and 10 macaque monkeys. The aim was to compare the VW emissions to a 1999 Ford diesel pick-up. “The test subjects were enclosed in sealed chambers, while in an adjacent room the Beetle (car not insect) was rigged to a treadmill. Exhaust from the pipes was sucked and pumped in the chamber where the monkeys were watching cartoons to keep them calm. For a period of four hours, the macaques were breathing TDI Beetle fumes.” The scandal was not surprisingly called Monkeygate.
In 2018, the Suddeutsche Zeitung and Stuttgarter Zeitung, claimed 25 young and healthy human beings were asked and paid to participate in a diesel emissions study. “The experiments are said to have taken place at an institute belonging to the University Clinic Aachen. The participants had to breath nitrogen dioxide, a component of diesel fumes linked, among other things, to heart attacks and lung cancer. The subjects were then medically examined for any side effects.”
As we say in the political caper: what do you do when the electorate feel betrayed? Betray them again. Like a broken record, the usual experts pop out and say “yes, but it’s damaged their image”. Yup. Then damage my image with record sales, record profits and record bonuses. You see just like in Australia, the new car sector is a protected species. I get literally hundreds of emails (and one letter that’s usually delivered a month after posting) from car owners who have been screwed by manufacturers. Most dealers really want to do the right thing but, particularly in the case of Mazda, the company stops them.
Well, John, isn’t that why we have the ACCC, Fair Trading and ombudspeople? Well readers, you love a joke don’t you?
I would actually like ACCC boss Rocket Rod Sims, the consumers’ friend, to be in charge but the federal government had a much better idea. The regular reader will know that the best way to protect car buyers’ interests is to put the tod or vixen in charge of the gallus gallus domesticus casa.
Here’s what the Department of Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development and Communications (DIRT) has to say: “If you manufacture, import, distribute, retail, supply or resupply road vehicles or approved road vehicle components by way of sale, exchange, lease, hire or hire purchase, you are responsible for undertaking recall action in the event of a safety or non-compliance issue with a vehicle or component. If you determine a vehicle or vehicle component does not comply with applicable standards, you should commence voluntary recall action as soon as possible to prevent possible injury or even death.”
How good is that? Unlike proper countries we’ll leave it to the people who have had criminal charges, other US and Japanese makers who at last count have had to recall about a zillion cars because they have or could kill persons of all genders to look after us. Now there is hope because we have a new boss of DIRT, deputy PM Barnaby Joyce. Joycey is a genuine country person and knows how important real (vs pseudo electric cars) are to real working persons. Can we count on him to stop the rort and rot?
Anyway, I said it had been a tough week for the Italians. Well, because one 25-year-old, who we suppose was of Italian descent, anticipated his country’s stunning victory when players stood opposite a net and tried to get a big ball past a defender three times (note to new parents: never let your child play goalie: they will be blamed for everything that goes wrong and get no credit for keeping the big ball out of the net) and hired a $350k Lambo Huracan in Birmingham. After the match, at exactly one minute past midnight, rent a car man found a very handy light post near a pub with hundreds of dejected but otherwise happy soapdodgers pouring out of a pub. Ten of Birmingham’s finest fireys attended but there were no injuries except to the Lambo.
Like throwing coins in the Trevi Fountain, kissing the Blarney stone and rubbing the bottom of the Big Merino, crashing Lambo into light posts in Birmingham is just something you do. Four years ago, a young punter did the same thing in Birmo, thus starting the coming-of-age ritual. Lambo lend the Italian highway patrol a Huracan or two and there’s no reports of them finding any lampiones.