Tuesday, 22 September 2015

Capital Crimes: Honesty Doesn't Sell Cars

Volkswagen, the so-called "Peoples' Car" company originally created by the Nazi Deutsche Arbeitsfront in 1937, is in crisis.

Once an apparent byword for trust and reliability, it has been revealed to have been deliberately falsifying the level of emissions from its diesel cars by a factor of up to forty times (yes, that's 4,000%) in US Environmental Protection Agency tests. Special software designed to identify when their cars are subjected to pollution tests alters emissions to mislead the regulator - and the buying public. Over 11 million cars are affected worldwide and VW in the USA are setting aside over $6.5 billion to pay anticipated compensation, with fines expected to be two to three times that. Half a million cars - Volkswagen and Audis sold between 2009 and 2015 - are already being recalled with many more to follow.

The company's European vehicles are likely to be just as polluting, but European tests are less rigorous so, in the view of one commentator today, there is less need to falsify outcomes. Europe may be just as badly affected by the deceit though - one early analysis suggests that over half the additional one million tonnes of emissions released by the rigged vehicles will have been on this side of the Atlantic.

With its shares falling 23% in value in one day as predatory investors anticipate lower profits as customers desert the brand, the company is rushing to shore up its battered reputation with about as devious a statement as you might expect:
"Volkswagen is committed to fixing this issue as soon as possible. We want to assure customers and owners of these models that their automobiles are safe to drive, and we are working to develop a remedy that meets emissions standards and satisfies our loyal and valued customers."

  their automobiles are safe to drive
  their automobiles are safe to drive

...except of course, they are not safe at all. That's the whole point about falsifying pollution emissions.

Save the planet - and its people!
Sure, they won't crash or blow up or anything so blatantly dangerous. Rather, insidiously, invisibly, they are helping to kill the life on our planet, poisoning our atmosphere, sickening our kids and killing our elderly.

All carbon fuel emissions are damaging to the environment and the creatures inhabiting it, which includes human beings - all of us. But while petrol is bad enough with its carbon dioxide outputs, diesel is even worse. Although marketed as "clean" because its particulates are largely invisible and it produces less carbon dioxide, it produces much more nitrogen oxide. This is a far more damaging gas when it comes to global warming as well as highly carcinogenic and as such a serious threat to human health. Many British cities, including most of London, Glasgow and Manchester have higher than legal levels of nitrogen dioxide emissions under EU regulations, but no decisive action has been taken to stop this in spite of the impact on people.

Bear in mind that around 60,000 early deaths in the UK are attributed to pollution every single year with about a quarter of these linked to diesel exhaust emissions and you can see the scale of this problem. But we have a UK Government which is subsidising carbon-packed fracking at the very same time as imposing new taxes on clean, renewable energy (now ludicrously and cruelly subjected to a carbon tax in spite of having nil carbon emissions).

That's right - it's really not safe to drive.
Put into this mix the drive (no pun) of VW and all private companies to maximise their profits (legally their sole objective) and wheezes like the US emissions falsifications become routine.

We are often told of course that capitalism is an engine of creativity, that it will find the solutions to all our problems and if nothing else consumer power will force companies to clean up their act and the planet. Yet isn't this just another marketing ploy, this time to sell us the concept that there is no alternative? Nothing works allegedly other than a system that commodifies everything and extracts surplus value from the work of the mass majority of people in order to maximise the profits of the few (owners).

The reality?
Capitalism pushes its participants to exploit, not conserve; to compete not co-operate; and to lie rather than be open - VW's crime in this context is simply to be caught out rather than doing what it did. Because, under the imperative of maximising the return for its shareholding owners, fixing the testing mechanism rather than investing millions in real fuel efficiency becomes the logical thing to do.

We've never trusted vehicle sales reps for a reason. It's because, in our economic system, honesty doesn't sell cars.

No comments:

Post a Comment