In many ways the last few years have been a period of intense growing pains for the car industry: it's a time of transition in which older more established automotive companies must decide how, and to what extent, they will embrace new emerging eco-friendly technologies. This comes in the forms of electric cars as well as autonomous vehicles.
One of the most critical issues that will help companies to evolve will be transparency, in other words embracing the new practices they prefer, and making it clear which ones are not in their best interest. This is important today, as the actions of corporate identities, including blunders and missteps, are much more easily detected than before.
A scandal erupts
Nowhere is this more obvious than in the recent ongoing Volkswagen (VW) emissions cheating debacle that has thus far seen many of the firm's key figures terminated and even arrested. Now, news is surfacing regarding VW's recent decision to lay off six managers and engineers amidst charges that they were allegedly involved in the diesel emissions scandal which originally broke in 2015.
Quickly referred to as Dieselgate by the press, it began after the discovery by the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) of practices involving upwards of 11 million diesel vehicles (77% of those cars sold in Europe) being fitted with "defeat devices", special software which would essentially sense when the car was being tested and then activate equipment that would kick in and reduce emissions.
The discovery led to a federal investigation filed in March of this year--which was aimed at nine people, including former Volkswagen Group CEO Martin Winterkorn, who resigned after news of the scandal broke in 2015. A separate filing was also made in the Federal Constitutional Court (four cases in total) in Germany.
The scrutiny continues to build
Pressure on the company intensified last year when files were seized from their offices, although the firm at the time did offer its full cooperation:
"Volkswagen AG welcomes the fact that the Federal Constitutional Court decision has now provided clarity with regard to the outstanding legal issues, even though the Court did not share Volkswagen AG’s understanding of the law. The companies of the Volkswagen Group will continue to cooperate with the federal authorities, giving due consideration to the decision of the Federal Constitutional Court," VW had said in a statement.
One of the strongest voices of opposition has come understandably from environmental groups, notably Greenpeace UK, who are using the events as an opportunity to renew their commitment to pressuring companies to phase out diesel.
ICYMI: yesterday, medics & Greenpeace activists shut down Volkswagen's UK Headquarters. Here's what happened... pic.twitter.com/jguPCeflEa— Greenpeace UK (@GreenpeaceUK) August 21, 2018
BREAKING: medics & Greenpeace activists are shutting down @UKVolkswagen’s HQ & turning it into an emergency diesel pollution clinic. They’re calling on VW to #DitchDiesel because it’s making our air dangerous to breathe pic.twitter.com/APkm5X88wg— Greenpeace UK (@GreenpeaceUK) August 20, 2018
What this means in terms of business practices is that companies are faced with increasing pressure to choose the path of full disclosure or full exposure. Moreover, the events involving Volkswagen are proof positive that the road to sustainability in the automotive industry will not be an easy one.