Sunday, December 13, 2015

The Corporate Culture At Volkswagen

Volkswagen’s diesel emissions scamming shenanigans are much in the news these days.  It’s safe to say that it all sounds very arrogant and self-serving.  That attitude is nothing new with Volkswagen. 

The Rabbit

In 1977 I bought a new Rabbit.  I had driven a friend’s 1976 Rabbit, and I was hooked.  The ’76 was a carburetored engine displacing 1600 cc’s, with about 85 horsepower.  It was a blast to drive.  My ’77 was a Bahama Blau (Blue) Intermediate model, with a new engine displacing, I think, just under 1500 cc’s, with fuel injection, putting out 71 horsepower.  The car weighed next to nothing, under a ton, and the gear box and clutch were just wonderful, so it was still a quick little car. I loved it, but there were problems.

There was one big problem with the new engine and numerous smaller mechanical problems with the car in general. I say that the smaller problem were numerous, which is being kind.  Between 10,000 miles and 30,000 miles, every component that you can think of needed to be replaced, at my expense.  The clutch; the master cylinder of the brakes; little brackets and bushings here and there; the dashboard; it was a lot.  Amazingly, for 120,000 miles after that all the car ever needed was oil changes and gas in the tank.  Rough honeymoon; good marriage.

I’m complaining, it’s true, but I’ll admit that the car was the fun beyond fun to drive.  It handled like a toy.  It had rack-and-pinion steering that was very precise. (No need for power assist with a car that light.)  The gearbox was very well spaced and the throw on the stick was short and precise.  The clutch had a throw of about one inch from totally in to totally out.  You could heel-and-toe it like a race driver, with your heel on the brake and your toe on the clutch.  You could drive that car as fast as it would go, and it would break a four wheel power slide with very little prompting.  Just a blast to drive.

The big problem was very annoying, and Volkswagen’s response to the problem was super annoying.  The new engine was fitted with Teflon valve guides that wore out within a few thousand miles.  The engine then started to burn oil like a two-stroke, trailing black smoke and requiring the addition of a quart of oil with every second tank of gas, at least.  I complained and got only bored, exculpatory responses.  Finally, I sent a letter to the national manager of customer service for North America.  I received a letter in reply, a letter that was breathtaking in its arrogance. 

“As you know,” the letter began, “all automobile engines burn a certain amount of motor oil in normal operation.”  The letter went on to scoldingly remind me that it was the responsibility of a car owner to make sure that his engine oil was always topped up.  I called his office and actually got him on the phone.  Speaking in person he was even more infuriating than the letter. 

Finally there was a recall, and the problem was solved.  I mentioned all of this to an acquaintance who worked in Volkswagen’s Los Angeles parts warehouse.  “That’s them all over,” he said, “the big wigs from Germany are even worse.  You can’t believe how they talk to us when they visit the warehouse.” 

VWs Current Troubles

This current problem with Volkswagen diesels is much more serious.  Volkswagen management is accused of systematically setting up their cars to evade emissions tests and deliver false emissions information.  This puts them at odds with the laws of multiple countries, and it appears that even criminal charges may be a possibility.  It’s the same old corporate arrogance and entitlement, though.  The same evil spirit at its heart. 

I’m sure that other automobile companies are not blameless in such matters, but Volkswagen’s long history of casually disregarding anything that impedes their progress should be enough to make people think twice before dealing with them.

They’re not the only company selling cars. 


jomode said...

Customers always ask me "What kind of car should i get?", to which I invariably answer "Anything Japanese.", to which they invariably get bummed out about. Then the truth comes out "What about a cool little Volkswagen?". I have my monologue really well practiced by now. I'll give it to you here:

"Anything European is a nightmare. Audi & Volkswagen are the worst. BMW & Mercedes are just as bad. These cars are OK for about 80,000 miles and then they take a hard dive. The electrical is trash & if you need a computer your talking 3-5 thousand dollars. The materials they use in the engines bake & fall apart. Brakes all the way around is $1,000. There's a reason you never see vintage European cars. Don't do it."

Land Rovers & Jaguars are the devil manifested. Volvo is great if your driving into walls. A Maserati gets asked very politely to leave.

The really clever ones (queue sarcasm) drive up with these shit-boxes a week later "I'm leasing it" & a smile from ear to ear.


fred c said...

Jorge, I'm with you 100% Over here I'd add to my advice, "buy the Toyota." Any neighborhood mechanic in Thailand can get the parts easy and fix the thing if something breaks. Even a Honda gets more complicated.

My students and ex-students are the same as your clients. "What about the BMW?" I say, "if you buy the BMW, you'll be happy for about two years; if you buy the Toyota, you'll be happy for twelve years."

Rich people over here don't want anything Japanese. There are no Accuras or Infinities here, and a Lexus is like finding a hens tooth. Rich people want the BMW or the Mercedes. After the period of permanent repair sets in, some of them get sick of paying huge "maintenance" bills and go Japanese.

And Volkswagens, don't even get me started. The third time you pull a lever, it comes off in your hand. After a year, they look like ruins.

You're good at this car game, Jorge. I hope that it provides you with a good living forever.