Updated: Sep 5, 2019
Nearly three years after the emissions scandal annihilated consumer trust and demoralized Volkswagon's reputation, Volkswagon is already profiting again and there is something to say for their perseverance.
When the news broke in September, 2015, I was shocked and appalled to hear that VW had been cheating the EPA and lying to consumers. I couldn't believe that a company as reputable as VW could care so little about the environmental impacts of their decisions simply to make a profit. They were careless with their power over consumers, not much different than Lance Armstrong was with his. They both lied and cheated. This article, however, is not a story about how Volkswagon screwed over 10's of thousands of consumers all over the world. Nor is it a story about how Lance Armstrong deceived the world into believing he was "naturally" a cycling god. This article is directed at understanding how one man and one company can take the fall for something that everyone was doing.
Lance Armstrong was the toast of the tour, the man of the hour, a legend, a role-model (one of mine), a world-class cyclist that couldn't be touched, until he was and it was all not real. Sure, he won all of those tours, and in ways, I feel like he did it as fairly as any man, considering how many of the cyclists were doping at the time. I honestly have no doubt in my mind that if no one was doping, and we were able to go back in time and run it all over, Lance and his team would win again. I believe Lance was that good. I used to wake up at 5 am every morning to watch the tour and see Armstrong build his legendary career only to wake up a different morning many years later to see that it was all fake. It was a lot the way I felt when the VW scandal hit the news. Having owned a VW diesel car merely for the 45mpg rating and the boast of clean diesel, I was hurt to see that they had been lying to me and my family. I quickly turned in the car at a $10k loss because I couldn't continue driving a car that was pushing 40 times the legal epa limit. We are environmentally conscious, always trying to help where we can, living downtown in an urban highrise, driving electric, recycling, just trying to do our part. VW made us feel like we were, but in the end, we were damaging the environment for years without even knowing. It was a frustrating yet eye opening time, just like when Armstrong offered up the truth to Oprah in January of 2013.
The most difficult part of the situation was not that the great Lance Armstrong lied to everyone or that VW cheated the emissions test and also lied to everyone. It was finding out that everyone else was also lying. Volkswagon was not the only car manufacturer lying to consumers and Lance wasn't the only cyclist acting as if he was cycling clean. “Audi, BMW, Daimler, Volkswagen, and Porsche colluded for years in more than 1000 meetings,” wrote Der Spiegel [German, paywall]. So why did Volkswagon have to take the biggest hit? Why did Lance just recently finish his $100 million lawsuit against the government and get banned from cycling for life while everyone else gets a slap on the hand and off virtually free of any repercussions? For the most part, the answer is media attention.
Media controls everything. Would the average person care if some random cyclist that they didn't know was getting banned from the sport for life or sued by the government for doping. No...it isn't news worthy. What if Chrysler or Kia got in trouble for cheating the emissions tests first? It wouldn't have the same impact. The news isn't as big as a company that is number two on the list of most profitable vehicle manufacturers in the world with the long standing reputation of VW. It is clear that Lance and VW have something in common other than just their scandals. Their extreme popularity was based on an image of truth. What would Lance have been if we didn't believe he was telling the truth all of those years? VW is balanced on a movement for the greater good, for coming together, doing the right thing, for freedom, love and peace. They promote it, but they did not live by it. It's because your friend has a VW diesel and because we all watched Lance ride. I didn't turn on the tour to watch Mark Cavendish, I mean, he is a great cyclist, but it was because of Lance that everyone tuned in to see what was going to happen. I buy a VW because of the image, because I believed in what they are selling. The media sold them to us when we thought they were telling the truth and threw them under the bus when we learned they weren't.
At the end of the day, VW is profiting again and Armstrong's legal woes seem to be coming to a close. I hope that we have all learned something from these scandals. Let's understand that humans make mistakes and see that just because the big guys take the fall, doesn't make their mistakes any bigger than the little guys that hide behind them and watch them hit the ground.