There is a world in which consumers swiftly punish Volkswagen where it counts — the coffers — for its massive, systematic deception of the Environmental Protection Agency in which it cheated its way around diesel emissions tests for half a decade.
This isn't that world.
Volkswagen of America just reported its October sales, the first full month of reporting since the scandal broke, and guess what? Sales are up 0.24 percent year over year, likely thanks in part to enormous discounts being offered to prop up volume. Now, perhaps they would've been up more in the absence of the scandal. But if consumers haven't outright rewarded VW for deceiving them, they certainly haven't done much to punish the automaker, either.
I don't really know what to do with this. Governments and law firms around the world are rearing to shake VW's piggy bank, but it's a little confusing to me that car buyers wouldn't be looking elsewhere while this all plays out (and it is very much still playing out). Are these buyers just not following the news? Are they not concerned, because America is generally less excited about diesel engines than Europeans? (Note that Volkswagen has suspended sales of its 2016 diesels, pending approvals, so Americans have made up the sales difference versus October 2014 with additional gasoline and hybrid purchases.)
Would I rush out and buy a Volkswagen a couple weeks after this thing broke?
Perhaps as the scandal deepens, as we learn more about how and why this happened, buyers will start to pick up on it and divert their cash to Volkswagen's competitors. Or perhaps — and this is the coldly cynical view — many Americans simply don't care that they've been lied to about the environmental friendliness of a vehicle. There's circumstantial evidence to back this up: studies show, for instance, that SUV sales pick up when gas prices fall despite miserable fuel economy. For prospective VW buyers, it's hard to pass up a $5,000 discount on a new car.
I'm not suggesting that Volkswagen should be financially punished right out of business. Thinking back to the Frankfurt show a couple months ago, VW has one of the most exciting lineups of EVs on the horizon, and I think the company has a real chance of purging the culture of cheating that led to this nonsense in the first place. But would I rush out and buy a Volkswagen a couple weeks after this thing broke? No. No, I would not.
"We would like to again thank our customers for their patience and loyalty," VW of America's COO says in the press release. He's not kidding!