Volkswagen scandal to test new white-collar policies

By Duke Staff

Last Friday, the EPA announced that automaker behemoth Volkswagen has been deliberately, and illegally, cheating its way through the emissions tests of VW and Audi cars equipped with the company’s 2-liter diesel engine.

As The New York Times reported, the offending vehicles were able to recognize when testing was underway and employed software to alter how the engine ran, in turn producing less emissions. In normal driving conditions, the engine software would revert the changes, releasing up to 40 times the legal amount of pollutants.

Those pollutants primarily consist of nitrogen oxide, a key contributor to ozone and smog. It is also linked to numerous health issues such as asthma and other respiratory diseases.

The vehicles involved were produced between 2009 and 2015, for a total of 482,000 cars in the United States. On Tuesday, Volkswagen announced the “defeat device” is not relegated to vehicles within the United States, and that the software was included in every car the manufacturer sold with the 2-liter diesel engine — a total of 11 million worldwide.

If the EPA hits VW with the maximum fine possible — $37,500 per car — the automaker could be facing a payout of $18 billion. On top of that number, VW will be facing the weight of possible criminal cases, as well as the cost of fixing the affected vehicles.

While the punishment may seem steep, it’s important to realize that by all accounts this is a blatant disregard for the law, and one that has dire ramifications for the health of citizens worldwide. This fact hasn’t gone unnoticed, with Monday seeing both the Department of Justice opening a criminal investigation and announcements of Congressional hearings into the matter.

VW’s scandal comes hot on the heels of the Department of Justice’s renewed focus on white-collar crime, and provides a perfect example to be made. Levying fines is one thing, but in a case with such obvious criminal intent it seems only fair that the individuals within Volkswagen who are responsible are held criminally accountable.

Yesterday VW’s CEO Martin Winterkorn resigned from his position, though he claimed he was “not aware of any wrong doing on my part.” That truth of that claim remains to be seen, and will hopefully be unveiled in the coming investigations.

Winterkorn went on to say that “the process of clarification and transparency must continue. This is the only way to win back trust.” Hopefully VW will follow through with its former leader’s departing remarks and allow investigators access to whatever, and whomever, they require.

If Volkswagen really wants to win back our trust, it must be willing to take the punishment it deserves.