Documentary filmmaker Alex Gibney (Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room, Catching Hell, Going Clear) has teamed up with Netflix to release a new documentary series called Dirty Money. It is a scathing trip into capitalism’s more sordid side, greed unchecked and uncontrolled, the show features episodes documenting ill-behaviour by big pharma, cartel banks, payday lenders and most relevantly, Volkswagen.
The scandal is no laughing matter. Much coverage has been given to the fallout of the scandal (including a 7-year jail sentence for former Volkswagen executive Oliver Schmidt, who was the general manager in charge of VW’s environmental and engineering office), with Volkswagen having been fined some $15 billion dollars. But most importantly, on a more human note, you can see that for some people the trust in the company is forever broken.
Gibney holds back no punches with the documentary. He splices the narrative with Volkswagen commercials proudly proclaiming their “clean” diesel fuel as a near-pollution free alternative for America, while Volkswagen executives (both past and present), are seen spewing lies, playing dumb, and generally being so comically criminal that it’s hard not to want to punch whatever screen you are watching the episode on.
As a one-time Jetta owner, Gibney angrily says, “Fuck Volkswagen”. And as you watch, you grow increasingly frustrated by Volkswagen’s unbelievable arrogance. From 2008 until 2015 they continually stifled efforts by the EPA and other regulatory bodies by using delaying tactics, fake recalls, and incredibly at one point, tried to say their new diesel tech was actually far cleaner for humans to breathe in than “old” diesel (by testing their noxious diesel on lab-caged monkeys and manipulating the results).
The episode is highly recommended, but to me, the most infuriating thing is that while VW has been hit relatively hard by the scandal (and some of the primary players responsible will see their just comeuppance), their sales and overall standing in the global automotive landscape looks to be relatively unharmed. In fact, as the documentary points out, they continue to be one of, if not the, leading automotive company in the world.
Absolutely infuriating. Yes, because their arrogance, lies and manipulation directly endangers the lives of everyone near of their noxious automobiles, but also because their cars are so distinctly average. On a larger scale I understand that pointing out that their cars are average pales in comparison to their corporate misdeeds, but it’s what I do- and I’ll tell you, I hate Volkswagen automobiles and every single one of them I’ve driven has left me feeling bored, uninspired and utterly confused by their attraction to buyers the world over.
I have recently driven all of these Volkswagen vehicles: Passat sedan, Passat wagon, Jetta, Golf GTI, Golf cabriolet (ugh), Polo (ugh), and Tiguan (uuughhhhhh), and not once, not once, did I feel like I was driving something special. Not once did I think that there’s an aura to the vehicle, intangibles not quantified by numbers and specs. All of their cars feel like they’re designed and built only to appease numbers, matching figures around a German race track, or to play well in television commercials. All comically devoid of personality.
Am I irrational? Yes, maybe, and I’m not even talking about my hatred for Golf drivers (listen guy who is only half a step ahead of Subaru vaping guy, you are no Sabine Schmitz).
Some people may not care that their cars are boring Volkswagens, and to some, the stink of this emissions scandal may wear off in a few years and they’ll forget what the company did. For me at least, my anger at their behaviour is only half of the reason why I won’t buy a Volkswagen. Sure, they are not the only company who have been busted for corporate misdeeds and time will tell if companies outside of the Volkswagen Group will see their comeuppance. But we can be sure of one thing, there is one big fat company that deserves all the derision that comes their way. Hopefully I am not the only one who feels this way, on both a rational and irrational level.
As Alex Gibney so aptly put it, “Fuck Volkswagen”. Fuck Volkswagen for the diesel scandal but also fuck Volkswagen for their average, boring ass cars.