I was rather depressed to read in the November edition of Vintage Roadcar that Volkswagen’s emissions cheating was not even that original.  Apparently in the late 1990’s a number of truck manufacturers were fined $1bn for doing the same thing, namely using software to change the way their engines ran whilst undergoing emissions tests.

Even more depressing was the fact that in 1974 Volkswagen paid the US authorities $120,000 to settle claims that they had fitted a mechanical “defeat device” to many of their cars that would sense when the engine reached a certain temperature and would then thwart the mandated pollution control systems.

It is hard to believe the engineers responsible for the current scandal were aware of the alleged misdemeanours of their forebears but it does perhaps show that a culture of disregard for the strictures of emissions laws is nothing new to Volkswagen.

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The excellent Porsche 919 Hybrids that triumphed at Le Mans this year. Will they be back next year?

Leaving aside the likely impact of Dieselgate on Wolfsburg and the wider German economy,  the crisis rocking VW Group is likely to have a significant impact on their motorsport programmes and aspirations.  Will the money still be there to fund Audi, Bentley and Porsche works teams? Particularly the hugely expensive Le Mans hybrid racers?  If the Audi Le Mans programme was designed to show the excellence of that company’s diesel and hybrid engineering technology, how can it possibly continue when it and its parent have been exposed as using the excellence of their engineering to cheat the public and the regulators?  And if Porsche and Audi pull out of WEC racing will other manufacturers do likewise?
Just before Dieselgate broke there was speculation in the motorsport press that VW were about to buy into Red Bull.  The deal would have made sense. Red Bull have fallen out with Renault and Mercedes will not supply them with engines. The thought of only being able to run obsolescent Ferrari engines next year was understandably unappealing. A deal with VW would have allowed Red Bull access to VW Group’s proven hybrid technology  – rebranding as Red Bull Audi would have been a small price to pay.  Such a deal is now surely dead in the water. There will be no money to spare at VW Group for a luxury like a Formula 1 team.  And without such a deal will we see Red Bull and Toro Rosso on next year’s grid? I think there is a real risk that we will not.

VW Group’s admission that they deliberately and fraudulently installed software in c11 million of their diesel cars to fool emissions testers is startling. We are now sadly used to big business issuing mea culpa statements due to the activities of rogue employees (banks and the fixing of LIBOR rates) , refusals to admit defects in their products (Toyota) or plain negligence (BP in the Gulf of Mexico) but never before have we seen one of the biggest companies in the world admit (but only after being caught) to defrauding their customers and the regulators.

The legal impact on VW will be disastrous. The key issue will be less the fraud in terms of co2 emissions and fuel economy (many do not care about the former and have long believed the latter to be manipulated) but rather it is the issue of NOX emissions that may kill VW.  This is primarily because NOX emissions are believed to be responsible for many fatalities worldwide. As such, fines in the U.S. alone will amount to billions. A number of possibly quite senior people will go to prison. I strongly suspect VW will only survive if the German government intervenes and even then I expect we will see the company broken up.

Whilst it is possible to shed tears for the innocent workers of VW Group surely there can be no sympathy at all for a company that deliberately pursued a fraud that it knew would contribute to the deaths of thousands?