Germany’s largest company, owner of Volkswagen, Audi, Bentley, Lamborghini and Porsche had been caught red-handed. Not only were they cheating, but also the pollution from their diesel engines has caused cases of asthma, bronchitis and cancer.
Think about Germany. What’s the first thought that comes to mind?
If it’s refugees, then Angela Merkel’s plan has paid off.
To understand, we have to follow two parallel tracks through time. One is about asylum-seekers, and the other is about Volkswagen.
About ten years ago, VW was working to become the largest car manufacturer in the world. It had its hopes pinned on the diesel engine. Diesels are fuel-efficient but run dirty. The pollutants can be captured in an exhaust system, but the technology is expensive and reduces mileage. VW claimed to have solved the problem and began selling massive amounts of diesel Jetta and Passat Turbocharged Direct Injection (TDI) cars into the United States and Europe.
In 2013, the US government began a testing program on the marvellous new diesels that could run so cleanly and cheaply. They rigged up the cars in a lab, ran the motors and tested what came out the exhaust. The tests proved the exhaust was clean.
Results were so good that an environmental group wanted to prove to the rest of the world that diesels could run cleanly and cheaply. They asked for help from West Virginia University, which luckily had a portable system that could be shoved up an exhaust pipe for real world testing. They hooked up their TDIs and drove them along the West coast of America from San Diego to Seattle. They were astonished to find road results were up to 40 times worse than lab results.
They took apart a TDI and were shocked to discover a “defeat device” meant to fool testing. The car’s pollution controls worked fine when the motor started, but as soon as the steering wheel was turned, the pollution controls stopped working. Clever German engineering had been used for hi-tech cheating. This means the fancy new TDIs were just as dirty as every other illegal diesel engine that had been taken off the road.
In May 2014, the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) opened an investigation. VW stalled for time and proposed various fixes. Nothing worked, and on 8 July 2015, the State of California threatened to halt VW diesel sales unless the problem was fixed. A month later the US government threatened to stop sales to the entire country. In September 2015, VW was forced to admit publicly that they had cheated on all their diesel cars.
Germany was in crisis. They had finally overcome their decades-long lingering guilt over the Second World War and their infamous reputation as heartless murderers due to the holocaust. Now their national corporation and largest company was being exposed on the world stage as cheaters and polluters. Not only that, but the German government itself knew about it and had allowed the defeat device through a loophole called “to protect the engine”.
How did Merkel deal with the public relations catastrophe that began to unfold on 8 July 2015 and culminated two months later in September 2015? Germany was strong enough to handle the $25 billion in fines and costs, but the assault on its reputation was potentially far more serious.
Merkel—previously known as a cautious East German bureaucrat—decided to distract the world by throwing open Germany’s borders to asylum seekers. On 31 August 2015, she famously declared: “We can do it.” On 5 September 2015, she allowed in thousands of refugees who had walked from Budapest to Germany. On 10 September 2015, she posed for a famous selfie with a refugee in Berlin. By the end of 2015, she had let in about 1.1 million asylum seekers, five times more than in 2014.
Exactly as planned, the world took notice. Time Magazine named her 2015 “Person of the Year; Chancellor of the Free World” and Newsweek said that she was “Europe’s Conscience”. Now when the world thinks of Germany, it thinks of an act of great humanity, and if any mistake was made, Germany had too much empathy for the plight of the suffering.
Germany’s largest company, owner of Volkswagen, Audi, Bentley, Bugatti, Lamborghini, Skoda and Porsche had been caught red-handed. Not only were they cheating, but also the pollution from their diesel engines has caused hundreds of thousands of cases of asthma, bronchitis, emphysema and cancer. It’s estimated about 100,000 people have died prematurely because of the diesel disaster.
There are photos of vast asphalt graveyards in the desert filled with VW diesel cars that are parked there to rot into eternity.
It’s all forgotten. Merkel’s plan has worked.
Tom Paskal is an award winning journalist, author and screenwriter.