Volkswagen stands to be even sorrier

Volkswagen’s Michael Horn had a lot of explaining to do last week in front of Congress.
Volkswagen’s Michael Horn had a lot of explaining to do last week in front of Congress. ASSOCIATED PRESS

The contrite CEO of Volkswagen North America last week apologized while testifying in front of a Congress for the German automaker’s rigging of 11 million diesel-powered vehicles to cheat on emission tests. Among those affected are many thousands of cars in Florida.

Speaking before a House investigative subcommittee tackling the scandal, Michael Horn said the massive fraud was not a corporate conspiracy to deceive millions of automobile buyers, but instead pointed the finger at a handful of rogue employees. Some lawmakers seemed dumbfounded by the explanation — and rightly so. Investigations under way in Germany should shed more light on how high up the fraud goes.

Volkswagen acknowledged in September to rigging the vehicles’ software to enable the four-cylinder diesel engines to cheat on emissions testing with something called a “defeat device.” The device was installed beginning with the 2009 models.

The deception will cost Volkswagen dearly. Mr. Horn said the company plans to withdraw applications for U.S. emissions certification for its 2016 models of Jetta, Golf, Passat and Beetle. Thousands of affected diesel vehicles will remain stuck at U.S. ports and dealer lots until the mess is resolved.

Mr. Horn said the company plans to recall the vehicles and adjust them to comply with emission levels, but the proposed changes likely won’t be completed by the end of 2016. It’s a long process. For owners, getting their cars fixed at dealerships will take up to 10 hours.

Therefore, there is no time to lose. Volkswagen must quickly adopt an effective plan to modify the vehicles’ counterfeit emissions apparatus. A full-fledged plan has not materialized, besides that the repairs begin in January.

Volkswagen will pay a steeper price in damage to its brand name — one beloved by Americans who have long embraced Volkswagen’s whimsical vehicles. After all, their Beetles were the only cars to come with a flower vase on the dashboard.

Mr. Horn told lawmakers that the company had “violated the trust of our customers, dealers and employees, as well as the public and regulators.” That sums it up well. Volkswagen’s serious offenses against the car-buying public will rip into the automaker’s pocketbook.

Those who purchased the vehicles thinking they were being environmentally responsible were unwittingly being the very opposite. Some customers will find the betrayal unforgivable.

It’s also troubling that the German company has tried to hide the impact its polluting diesel vehicles may have had on the environment at a time when climate change is a visible phenomenon: The rise in global temperatures, more intense storms and floods and sea-level rise. For a trusted company to distort the true emission rates is not only fraudulent, it’s dangerous.

At a time when scientists have determined that there is a process of climate change caused largely by human activity, companies should make every effort to reduce their impact on the environment. That’s called responsibility. Volkswagen deceived us. The company must now take all necessary steps to correct the error as soon as possible.

It’s the least Volkswagen can do. Down the road, the automaker may feel its own kind of sticker shock — when its cars sit unpurchased on American dealers’ lots.