When I moved back to Canada in 2010, I had a new commuting challenge: to regularly travel 220 return kilometres, from west Toronto to Waterloo, ON. For my wife and two kids, I needed comfortable seating and trunk space too. Since I would be parking on the street in my more urban-than-suburban neighbourhood, I didn’t want to get anything too expensive.
I chose the new 2011 Volkswagen Jetta TDI. Made at a new factory in Mexico, it ticked all the boxes. Over 900km per tank of diesel? Check. Lower emissions than most regular gas cars? Check. Same interior space as the old Passat? Check. Way cheaper than an Audi with the same engine or BMWs with similar engines? All check.
I was saving money, driving with Turbo amounts of power, and feeling good about my impact on the earth. I bragged to my Prius-owning environmentalist neighbours that on highways, my TDI was better.
Then the scandal hit – like millions of other cars, my VW was factory-fitted with software that cheated regulators’ emissions tests. Even though I’m saving money on fuel, I’ve been spewing way more toxins than I was told both when I bought it, and in continuous messaging from VW over the last 5 years. VW ex-boss Martin Winterkorn faces fraud charges now.
What’s the brand take from an owner/driver? VW’s dirty decision means I bought a more polluting car than the one I thought I was buying, and this has led to a number of rational and emotional minus points:
- I’ve gone from being the guy with a less polluting car to a guy who pollutes a lot
- I’m embarrassed about driving my car every day
- People laugh when I tell them which car I drive, and want to talk about the scandal
- While idling at an intersection some millennials pointed at me funny, and so on..
Recalling my car and removing the cheating software may be important to governments and regulators, but it is pointless for an owner. The car will still pollute, and I am still the owner of a product that is not the same as I was promised.
My car is not worthless – it drives great – but it is worth less. Because new buyers of used VW TDIs expect to experience similar embarrassment and shame to mine, they expect significant cash discounts to compensate. My car is worth a lot less in resale than two weeks ago, and when you boil it down, that is the financial effect of VW’s fraud for every owner who bought from a dealer.
Figuring out and paying that discount – the difference between what people’s used cars were worth before the story broke and after – is the starting point for any compensation VW should offer to every owner who bought new.