VW Excuses Gone Rogue

Volkswagen’s current crisis is common knowledge. The public is very aware of the company’s shady business practices and has learned that they rigged diesel cars to cheat emissions tests and cheat customers. Leading up to the reveal of the scandal, Volkswagen denied that this was an intentional manipulation. Once they were confronted with evidence to the contrary, it seemed as though they were handling the crisis well. Upper management seemed to sincerely apologize

Courtesy of www.newsgaze.com

Courtesy of www.newsgaze.com

and Volkswagen stated its commitment to rectifying their mistake. However, the company has reverted to bad PR decisions of late.

Volkswagen has tried to use “rogue engineers” as a scapegoat for their failures as a company while distancing themselves from those individuals.

Here’s the problem with that. It’s an excuse and a bad one at that. As stated in a Bulldog Reporter post, it’s impossible to believe that the CEOs and other key players were unaware or uninvolved in such a huge design element. Even if they truly didn’t know, they’re leadership and it was their job to know.

For every point they earned taking responsibility, they lost a point by casting blame on “rogue” individuals. The key to crisis communication is honesty. Relationships with customers and stockholders can’t be maintained if they don’t trust the company or if they feel like, moving forward, they are still going to be taken advantage of.

It appears that lawyers have jumped into the equation and are trying to position Volkswagen well for the lawsuits that are undoubtedly going to result from the situation. Rather than heeding the advice of the PR professionals within their organization, I assume they are trying to minimize the financial impact. Sometimes that has to be done and it can help in the short term, but it won’t matter if you saved a buck if your company goes bankrupt because customers no longer wish to associate with your brand.

How would you handle the situation? Do you think blaming the actions of a few is satisfactory?


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6 Responses to VW Excuses Gone Rogue

  1. Alex Sorrell says:

    This Volkswagen Diesel crisis is a perfect example of why it’s important to understand your organization’s culture in PR and marketing.The New York Times did an excellent piece on how the corporate culture allowed the world’s largest auto manufacturer to commit such a blatant violation of the law (http://www.nytimes.com/2015/09/25/business/international/problems-at-volkswagen-start-in-the-boardroom.html?_r=0).

    To summarize, Germans don’t like electric cars because in their eyes as long as whatever you’re using to generate power is a fossil fuel, there’s no benefit and it could be more harmful than having a gasoline powered car. This is why none of the automotive companies Volkswagen owns have an electric car and instead relied on their TDI technology. Also, Volkswagen is the largest employer in Germany so they saw their roll as a supporter of the country versus a private automotive company. They would stop at nothing to protect the company and increase jobs, even if it meant lying to the public. It’s important in PR to know what your corporate culture is like in order to combat issues like Volkswagen’s before it begins.

    I question whether or not they will be able to regain the American public’s trust. Volkswagen has never been able to make it big in the American market and the Beatle, which was a big seller in the 00’s, doesn’t have the draw it used too. I don’t think Volkswagen will pull out of the American market, but I don’t think they’ll ever be a big seller ever after this crisis.

  2. Taylor Nelson says:

    I think this is a good example of when it is important to take accountability for your actions. The problem Volkswagen had was the opposite of many scandals. Usually, it’s an organization that gets blamed for the acts of an individual; however, in this case, it is the other way around. It doesn’t really matter the technicalities of how it happened. It was a big enough problem, and a big enough scandal, that the entire company ought to have taken the fault.

    You bring up the idea of trust. This is such an issue with this VW situation. Once again, it doesn’t matter who actually caused the problem. The entire organization has lost integrity and defaulted on their customer’s trust. It would be that lost trust that I dealt with first as a PR person for the company. Accountability is a huge part of gaining that trust — yes, we messed up, but at least we’re owning up to it. So I completely agree that the organization as a whole should have taken responsibility for this. In my opinion, it is the only way to start to regain that trust again, and that trust is absolutely key to the stakeholders in this scandal.

  3. Aubrey Badger says:

    I had no idea about the recent coverups Volkswagen has employed, and it seriously disgusts me. As if manipulating and torching their customers wasn’t enough, they are now cutting ties — and trust — with their employees as well. By blaming a few “rogue” employees for the emissions cheating, they’re positioning themselves as a company that doesn’t know what’s happening under their own roof, and doesn’t have a reliable and trusting relationship with their employees. Not only will people not want to buy Volkswagens, now, they won’t want to work for them, either.

  4. Asia Poole says:

    This is a very interesting and tricky situation VW has gotten itself into. To keep the company alive, scapegoating seems to be the only way. I would probably stay silent for quite some time through the pending litigation stage of this crisis. The company should not lie and should accept responsibility for the actions that they did take. I think placing public blame on another group is distasteful, and ultimately hurtful to the company. I would let the media report the fault of the individuals involved and remain focused on salvaging what is left of our safety reputation. Whether that is a recall or a campaign that involves industry experts advising the re-vamp of the vehicles’ build in a public forum (such as a web series). This way I’m acknowledge that we have been unsatisfactory, I am correcting that mistake, and from a legal standpoint I am not admitting guilt or making any contradictory statements and actions.

  5. Taylor Holmes says:

    If I were in this situation, I would recommend that Volkswagen’s leadership be as transparent as possible. While doing so may affect those specific people’s jobs, transparency will help keep brand trustworthiness among consumers for the long term. I am no longer surprised at the way in which large corporations deal with crises, so the way Volkswagen responded to its situation did not catch me off guard. I think that blaming only a few people is not satisfactory in this situation. While it may be true that only a small group of people actually carried out the acts that caused the crisis, it is 100 percent likely that other people in the organization knew about it.

  6. Kate Sitter says:

    The Volkswagen response is disappointing. Recalls are common in the auto industry. There is a common tactic for addressing recalls. However, this is a bigger deal than a recall; VW didn’t just have a recall, they rigged diesel cars to test better. This was a blatant attempt to mislead the public. Now that they’ve been exposed, I’m sure that VW wants to maintain their reputation. I wouldn’t want to outwardly admit that the company intended to mislead the public. However, I do agree that honesty is required. If I were heading the VW crisis communication, I would have had the CEO release a statement saying that they are looking into the issue and not much more. I think it would behoove VW to focus on the NEXT step, in re-positioning the brand as trustworthy.

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