Volkswagen CEO Matthias Mueller is continuing his apology tour throughout the United States over the hot mess that is Dieselgate, but the tour just took a super-weird turn with a series of interviews that Mueller gave to NPR. First he claimed that Volkswagen didn’t lie, and then that the whole thing was caused by a mere “technical error.” And then he requested a do-over interview to fix that new hot mess.
The interview began after Mueller had just finished his main stop on the tour, the Detroit Auto Show, when NPR brought up the point that most Americans felt the diesel issue wasn’t a technical problem, but an ethical one. Mueller, weirdly, came across like an aloof weirdo about the whole thing:
Frankly spoken, it was a technical problem. We made a default, we had a ... not the right interpretation of the American law. And we had some targets for our technical engineers, and they solved this problem and reached targets with some software solutions which haven’t been compatible to the American law. That is the thing. And the other question you mentioned — it was an ethical problem? I cannot understand why you say that.
But it was an ethical problem, as Volkswagen broke the law when it said that its cars complied with emissions regulations (not true), and then intentionally lied for almost a year to the EPA when it asked Volkswagen what the hell was going on with its sky-high emissions. Mueller then tried to claim that they didn’t lie at all (which itself was a lie, cool, neat):
We didn’t lie. We didn’t understand the question first. And then we worked since 2014 to solve the problem. And we did it together and it was a default of VW that it needed such a long time.
But Volkswagen did lie, multiple times, and the excuse that one of, if not the largest automotive companies in the world, with its army of lawyers, “didn’t understand the question” from the EPA is just absurd. Furthermore, the admission of guilt is important to the company’s strategy of trying to get people to believe them again.
The rest of the interview was a bit of a trainwreck, before Mueller went on to pledge that VW would “deliver appropriate solutions” to people who feel they were cheated.
Probably recognizing immediately that the interview Did Not Go Well, but immediately blaming other questions being shouted at Mueller in different languages from other journalists at the auto show, Volkswagen requested a do-over. Mueller immediately went about cleaning up:
Mueller: I have to apologize for yesterday evening because the situation was a little bit difficult for me to handle in front of all these colleagues of yours and everybody shouting. OK. Thank you very much for coming again and giving me the opportunity to say some words.
NPR: When we talked yesterday, the key line seemed to be that this was a technical error. Which sounds to us in English, like, “Oops.” When it wasn’t an oops. It was more than a technical error. It seemed to be intentional.
Mueller: Yeah, the situation is, first of all we fully accept the violation. There is no doubt about it. Second, we have to apologize on behalf of Volkswagen for that situation we have created in front of customers, in front of dealers and, of course, to the authorities. ...
Mueller couldn’t actually bring himself to say the words “we lied,” but rather went on to say that company “had the wrong reaction” to the EPA’s requests.
Listen to the original interview here: