It seems hard to believe that a beloved German car company — Volkswagen — could for years lie to the governments of several countries, not to mention the buying public. Lie about what, you ask? Perhaps the worst thing imaginable: polluting the planet. What makes the lies so egregious is all along Volkswagen was also dodging the environmental standards it was publicly championing.
What also makes the story of Volkswagen's corporate greed different than so many others is the automaker got caught. Since 2015, the company has been embroiled in a scandal of global proportions regarding the extensive corporate cover-up and the consequences of the fallout. Stuff They Don't Want You To Know host Ben Bowlin sat down with Scott Benjamin, his former podcast partner from CarStuff, to discuss the twisting tale and far-reaching scandal in the podcast The Great Volkswagen Cover-Up.
In 2009, Volkswagen was concerned about its dismal diesel car sales in the United States. The company couldn't build an engine with the performance consumers demanded, and one that also passed the strict EPA regulations required by the U.S. government. But then, in that same year, Volkswagen announced clean diesel engines, and sales skyrocketed.
All seemed well until 2015, when a team at West Virginia University conducted a study about diesel car emissions. Curiously, the Volkswagens were emitting way more fumes on the road than were allowed by EPA standards. Those findings peaked the Environmental Protection Agency's interests.
And this is where the cover-up fell apart. It turns out Volkswagen had been including so-called "defeat devices" in its diesel cars, which enabled the cars to essentially cheat on emissions tests. The "clean diesel" engines were emitting up to 40 percent more greenhouse gases than allowable in the United States. And it seemed Volkswagen had intentionally outfitted the cars with these devices to get around environmental regulations.
Volkswagen tried to keep the info under wraps, but it didn't last long. The EPA issued a recall for all Volkswagen diesel cars fitted with a defeat device: That included every diesel model sold in the U.S. between 2009 and 2015, almost 500,000 vehicles, although about 11 million cars worldwide had been built with the device. The FBI has arrested several Volkswagen executives for market manipulation and corporate conspiracy, though no CEOs have been taken down. Volkswagen has undergone a couple of boardroom shuffles since the story broke.
In addition, the automaker faced more than $25 billion in costs — including fines and penalties — and was forced to buy back and retrofit all of the recalled cars. The scandal has involved executives from Porsche and Audi as well, and has prompted intense investigations all over the world, as several governments are taking a closer look at their consumer protection laws and corporate loopholes that could keep some of these executives from penalty if they're based outside the U.S.
However, despite the scandal, sales of Volkswagen continue to climb. How can that be possible after such a huge scandal that involved swindling the public? And will any of the real decision-makers see justice? Those are just a few of the questions Scott and Ben try to answer. Most importantly, Ben and Scott discuss what they think will happen next in the ongoing Volkswagen emissions scandal. To hear what they have to say, you'll have to listen to the entire podcast.