If you’re a fan of exciting speculative fiction, there’s a short video circulating right now from an allegedly non-partisan group called CASE for Consumers that describes an incredible alternate reality where Angela Merkel is masterminding a plan to dump cheap German cars on the American market. Cheap German cars! In America! Today! What a dazzling world that would be.
The video mostly focuses on Volkswagen, who hasn’t sold really cheap cars in America since they stopped selling old-school Beetles here in 1979, or maybe since they stopped selling the Brazil-built Fox in 1993. Here, watch it and you’ll see:
Now, I’m not saying that Angela Merkel doesn’t think Americans are suckers, because, who knows, she might. And if anyone believes what this video is trying to say, then we probably are suckers.
What is ridiculous about this video is the breathless, panicked assertion that Volkswagen “plans to dump massive amounts of cars on the U.S. market below cost.” That’s not what’s going on, at all.
What the video seems to be referring to is that, according to the terms of Volkswagen’s settlement, Volkswagen can re-sell TDI-equipped cars once they’ve been “fixed” via a procedure VW had approved last year, and the cars meet the emission requirements established by the EPA and CARB. VW has been approved by the California Air Resources board and the Environmental Protection Agency to modify 326,000 first-gen four-cylinder 2-liter TDI vehicles, which can then be re-sold.
Keep in mind these vehicles can be as old as 2009 model year cars. These “cheap cars” VW is allegedly “dumping” on America are 2009-2015 Jettas, 2009-2014 Jetta SportWagens, 2010-2015 Audi A3s and Golfs, 2015 Golf SportWagens, 2013-2015 Beetles and 2012-2015 Passats. These aren’t going to be competing with people who want brand-new cars, at least not in any significant way. It’s hardly “dumping” cars on the market.
Besides, something has to be done with all those cars: it seems like it would be far worse, environmentally, to just junk hundreds of thousands of serviceable, decent cars, especially now that they meet emission requirements, however, the truth is that we really have no idea.
Even so, these VWs were overall very efficient cars, and when modified to meet the standards of the settlement, there is a CO2 mitigation. The settlement that includes permitting keeping the cars on the road does overall appear to make sense, given all the circumstances.
(Also, it’s true Volkswagen did some egregious things with the whole Dieselgate scandal, and we’ve covered that in a lot of detail. Don’t mistake my criticisms of this video for a defense of VW, which absolutely defrauded entire nations of car-buyers. The German government is not innocent here, either, by any stretch, though it’s not remotely accurate to suggest that Merkel was in charge of what Volkswagen was doing, any more President Trump is the reason Ford won’t sell you a Fusion anymore in a couple years.)
Also, for a group that has “consumer” right in its name, you’d think Consumer Action for a Strong Economy would see this as a boon to American consumers, who will have more options to get a safe, relatively modern car at a good price. If anything, these may disrupt the used car market a bit more than the new car market.
The video also claims that this is “Good for Germany—Not America,” like VW planned this as a way to tank the sales of American car makers, which is about as far from the truth as can be.
This is VW desperately trying to cut some of their losses from its massive—and ultimately failed—gambit to cheat the world’s emission standards. This isn’t the plan of cunning German masterminds, it’s a desperate scramble to finally unload a painful reminder of VW’s biggest recent fuck-up and move on.
The video then goes on to address Trump directly, blowing a bit of preparatory sunshine up his ass by referencing the talks with North Korea and a vague reference to “progress... with China,” and implores him to “stand up to the German government’s attempt to dump cheap autos on the U.S. Market.”
This is all ridiculous. That’s not what’s happening here. Volkswagen—even if we want to portray it as a monster that deviously belches filth into our air—is just abiding by the terms of the settlement everyone agreed to already. It’s not dumping cheap cars on the market, it’s selling used, fixed old TDIs. If someone wants a brand-new 2018 Ford Expedition, they’re probably not going to be tempted away by a diesel 2012 Passat.
I’m not even exactly sure what the overall political goal here is. To vilify Germany and Merkel because they’ve pushed back against Trump at times? To keep people from buying fun red TDI Jetta SportWagens?
I reached out to CASE to ask them about the video, and was directed to this article, and given a statement from Gerard Scimeca, the group’s Vice President.
The article was written by CASE’s president, and mostly reviews all of the genuinely shitty things VW did as part of the whole Dieselgate scandal. Regarding re-selling the fixed TDIs, the justification is a little bit vague:
“But given its recent track record, ongoing legal issues and refusal to come clean on its current practices, maybe it’s time we hit the brakes on that idea until we get some real answers, and VW stops acting like it has something to hide.”
I mean, sure, VW did something terrible, but “acting like it has something to hide” isn’t a crime.
What is a crime is what some of VW’s executives have been accused of, like ex-CEO Martin Winterkorn, who has been criminally charged with conspiracy and wire fraud by U.S. prosecutors. This goes against the articles claim that
“... there have been few visible legal or disciplinary consequences for people involved in the emissions cheating...”
... since I’d say criminally charging the CEO at the time is a pretty visible disciplinary consequence.
CASE’s statement from Gerard Scimeca reads as follows:
“The issues for us involve both marketplace fairness and basic accountability. VW is looking to clawback some of their losses as they continue to stonewall not only our government but other consumers around the globe. Given the historic level of fraud involved, this is entirely unacceptable. So so long as Volkswagen delays the kind of complete openness and transparency that gives the buying public a high level of confidence this scandal is entirely behind them, their tainted autos can stay right where they are.”
Okay. Again, nobody is saying Volkswagen is an angel or they deserve to be let off the hook. But these justifications seem to be little more than a general outrage that this happened at all, and, based on the tone and content of the video, the real goal here is to use some coded language to make a pro-Trump video that fosters anti-EU/Merkel/Germany sentiment, and the Dieselgate/alleged car-dumping is just the vehicle to do so.
It’s certainly their right to make such videos, of course, as it is ours to point out where they seem disingenuous.
Then again, maybe they just want to tease us with the dazzling fiction of a world where you can buy cheap BMWs and Mercedes-Benzes in America.