Opinion: why is VW’s “dieselgate” a bigger scandal than Toyota, GM or Takata crises? image

This is not the first major automotive scandal in history even as the industry has not lived longer than a tad over a century – but it seems that VW’s rigged diesel emissions could be larger than crises that took a toll in the most important commodity – human lives.

Let’s stick to the scandals that affected the industry after the turn of the XXI century: we can easily relate to them because they’re fresher in the memory. We can recall Ford-Firestone’s exploding tires, Toyota’s suddenly accelerating cars, GM’s ignition switches or Takata’s exploding airbags. And then there’s Volkswagen AG, with its diesel-powered cars that rigged emissions testing not only in the US, but it seems that all around the world (so far confirmed are the US and Germany, with half a million and 2.8 million units, respectively). Everyone has been jumping through the roof about the faked diesel emission tests and how Volkswagen cheated. Don’t get me wrong – I seriously believe national regulators are way too “empathetic” and relaxed when it comes to companies that take home profits in billions and every day wine and complain about how hard is to make that massive lump of cash. It was high time every manufacturer took the task of delivering accessible, affordable, economical, practical and most importantly safe cars utterly serious.

But I also want to draw and alarm. All the other auto scandals I mentioned earlier had a tangible and devastating effect – they took human lives. And they did it directly, not how VW is doing it incidentally by damaging the environment even further (although I despise anyone doing such a thing). Let’s talk about the latest scandals: Takata’s exploding airbags – which are from the start supposed to save lives – have caused eight fatalities (including a pregnant woman and her infant) and 130 injuries. And GM’s defective ignition switches (we’re talking only about the initial 2.6 million recall, not the following) killed 124 people and injured another 275. And ladies and gentlemen, while VW could be fined around $18 billion in the US alone, GM’s toll was way, way lower. I did an earlier account of what levies have been imposed so far and the company would have to pay $900 to the Department of Justice (they only paid $35 million to the NHTSA!), $625 million through the victims’ compensation fund, some $575 million for civil settlements and some millions to repair the cars. Something should smell fishy to everyone, right?