Your weekly guide to all that’s rotten in the auto industry, plus some good bits
The chief executive of Audi has been arrested at his home, the most senior Volkswagen official to be taken into custody over the emissions cheating scandal. (VW owns Audi.) Presumably he was arrested while using an all-electric lawn mower and not the emissions cheating variety.
Praise to the EU for a system that sees the legal process move into action. VW thinks less of it because at the time of writing he is still chief executive. When evidence emerged that Audi had played a major role in developing illegal emissions software on Herr Rupert Stadler’s watch, he and most other top executives kept their jobs.
Prosecutors in Munich said Stadler was being detained amid fears he might hinder its investigation into the scandal. This could plunge Volkswagen into a leadership crisis. News of Rupert Stadler’s arrest comes as the VW group chief executive, Herbert Diess, tries to introduce a new leadership structure, which still includes Stadler, and accelerate the group’s shift towards electric vehicles. The court has made clear Stadler is unreliable and intend to prevent him from obstructing or hindering the diesel investigation.
The whole VW emission scandal is a prime example of the disdain the automotive industry has for the car buyer, the pedestrian, and above all government rules and regulations.
For decades VW was led with an iron fist and an iron rod by an austere Austrian autocrat named Ferdinand Piëch, a former engineer, and CEO of VW. He retired in 2015, so he’s nicely clear of any backlash. But it was his ethos that permeated every aspect of VW empire building. He was the VW boss who rejected the Smart car, later bought by Mercedes, and gave the world his completely useless vanity project, the unprofitable Bugatti Vyron, a jelly mould sold for over £1 million pounds each.
The ersatz Bugatti is the supercar with a fire grate for a radiator, that can do over 250 miles per hour in a desert only, needs ten radiators to cope with the heat, cripplingly expensive tyres replaced every 2,000 miles, and is so heavy it defies the laws of physics.
No surprise that Piëch’s staff felt able to disregard the rules for keeping the environment safe, and went for maximum profits to please their boss and shareholders. You’ll rarely find mention of Piëch in UK car magazines connected to VW. The internal corruption of bribing union officials with hookers and money was invariably side-stepped in favour of obtaining the latest fast Audi or VW Gold GTi to test drive.
For readers unfamiliar with VW’s gigantic fraud, VW admitted in September 2015 to using illegal software to cheat US emissions tests on diesel engines, sparking the biggest crisis in the German carmaker’s history and triggering a regulatory crackdown in the auto industry. The US is fining VW to Hell and back, and demanding customer are given a new car of cash on their oil burner. We are left to the wolves in the UK. You bought a VW made diesel car? Tough.
We get these industry ‘crackdowns’ every ten years or less. Faulty brakes, cruise control increasing speed, air bags bursting without warning, the disasters pile up and each time we think it an aberration. A previous one of epic proportions was tyre failure on SUVs. Tyre companies blamed car makers and vice versa.
The problem lies in so few legal institutions existing in the UK to protect car buyers and owners. The AA looks to sell insurance and holidays, the Consumer Association has so little cash it’s hamstrung. The dealer motoring associations complain but are likewise impotent. If you consult a lawyer it can cost more than the value of your vehicle. Whichever way you look, the car owner is duped and cheated.
GROUSEY’S FOOTWELL FINDS
Car crash roads
A study of the UK’s worst roads for crashes reveals the M6, which stretches 232 miles from Leicestershire to the Scottish borders, a main artery of the UK motorway network, and the 280-mile-long A8(M) in Scotland, have on average five car accidents each week – or put another way, one every weekday. The A30 in Devon (213 crashes), A35 in Dorset (173), and the A46 in Warwickshire (123) are next in the list of most dangerous roads. Reading that reminds me of the decades the east coast road England to Scotland is still not a motorway, while dear old Blighty talks of billions for fast trains to Leeds, and all that loose change jingling in is pockets after Brexit with no projects in Province Scotland on which to spend it.
Stone the crows
The Scottish Tories, a rare breed of straw man scarecrow, claim there are “over 400 no go areas” in Scotland where ambulance drivers won’t tread, but wait until they are accompanied by police officers. Ambulance drivers call it basic procedure. The BBC has dutifully repeated the Tory’s nefarious assertion. The notion a chibbed and bleeding Union Jack zealot lying in a stairwell swimming in his own urine released from fear of dying is going to tell his mates to stone the ambulance is so bloody risible it’s enough to crack a rib. Perhaps Tories are twisting facts; ambulance men regard Tory constituent offices as no go areas for fear of punching the MSP’s lights out.
Paying too much for gas
UK motorists are paying on average 5p more per litre for fuel than they should because fuel stations are slow reducing prices in line with crude oil rates. A study by fuel price campaigner FairFuelUK reveals fuel stations made £500 million in “opportunistic profiteering” by not reducing prices of petrol and diesel accordingly in the past three months alone. Petrol conglomerates always respond with the same excuse, the petrol station retain tank reserves of the old priced petrol and so can’t reduce the price per gallon overnight. Or tomorrow night. Or the night after that. And they can’t get the staff. No wonder we witness drivers turning the pump hose this way and that to get every penny of value from it before they pay at the till.