IN THE world of motoring there can’t have been many brands that were as trusted as Volkswagen.
“If only everything in life was as reliable as a Volkswagen,” the 1980s television advert proclaimed. Today that slogan looks like a particularly bad joke.
VW’s admission that it has been rigging US car emission tests and that 11 million vehicles across the world are implicated is particularly galling. Even though an increasingly cynical and weary public is growing ever more accustomed to scandal, this still has the power to shock.
All of a sudden the hall of shame already inhabited by the subprime mortgage crisis and the Libor-rigging debacle has another shoddy entrant – a gigantic multinational previously regarded as one of Germany’s most upstanding companies.
As VW set aside a cool £4.7 billion to cover the cost of the sort of scandal that was once the preserve of greedy financial institutions and their unscrupulous employees, the grovelling apologies came thick and fast.
The boss of VW’s American business, Michael Horn, said the firm had “totally screwed up”.
Martin Winterkorn, Volkswagen’s chief executive, said he was “endlessly sorry” after the US Environmental Protection Agency found VW diesel cars had much higher emissions than tests had suggested and that software in several diesel cars could deceive regulators.
The software detected when the vehicles were undergoing official emissions testing and switched the engines to a cleaner mode. Once on the road, the cars produced nitrogen oxide pollutants at up to 40 times the legal standard.
As Winterkorn said VW would co-operate fully with the US authorities, he admitted the company had “betrayed the trust” of millions of people.
“To make it very clear, manipulation at VW must never happen again,” he said. The trouble for Winterkorn, VW, the car industry as a whole and motorists is that his promises will not be enough. The betrayal has been on such a grand scale that more must be done to rebuild shattered trust. The sheer number of vehicles involved will cast doubt over VW products all over the world.
That is why it is entirely right that the European authorities should take heed of calls for a wide-ranging inquiry.
Inevitably, the finger of suspicion will point to other manufacturers. Therefore it is imperative that other car makers must issue statements making clear whether or not they have indulged in any sort of similar indecent behaviour.
Over recent decades, car companies have invested countless millions establishing the green credentials of their products. If their environmentally-friendly claims are to mean anything at all in the future, then they must speak now.
Talk of ‘principles’ is unprincipled
The Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Willie Rennie and others in his party campaigned passionately for a No vote in the independence referendum.
Little more than a year after he and the others in the Better Together campaign were successful, Rennie has indicated he is quite relaxed if Lib Dem politicians rally to the independence cause in the future.
“We’re Liberals – if we can’t be tolerant about people taking different views on the constitution, what can we be tolerant about,” Mr Rennie told BBC Radio Scotland’s Good Morning Scotland programme yesterday.
“We’ve always adopted that approach – if members want to speak up for independence in our party, they’ve always been perfectly entitled to do so. In fact many of them do and I congratulate them for sticking to their principles on that.”
Funnily enough, we heard nothing from Rennie about his independence-supporting colleagues when the referendum campaign was at its height.
Nor did we hear Rennie praising their principles.
Now, however, with voters parties surging to the SNP, the Scottish Lib Dem leader has changed his tune.
But by indicating there is nothing incompatible with wanting independence and voting Lib Dem, Rennie opens himself up to criticism levelled at Labour leader Keiza Dugdale, who spoke of a “free vote” in any future referendum.
His flexibility on the constitutional question will be seen as nothing more than naked political opportunism.
Rennie is guilty of putting votes before policy and party before country.