In defense of Volkswagen (sort of)

I realize that a lot of people are pretty ticked off at Volkswagen (with fairly good reason). After all, the company admitted that it deployed software to its diesel cars to fool US EPA emissions tests into making their diesels seem as though they were cleaner than they actually are. So, okay, let’s call that what it is: crappy. But let’s also talk about what it isn’t: it’s not a safety issue.

Individuals’ trust in a brand is often built on whether or not the promises made by the company (through messaging, marketing, etc.) meet expectations and consistently represent that brand in a way that the individuals like. People expect Apple to come out with shiny toys that cost more than their competitors’ but that are always easy to operate and have massive hipster appeal. People expect Amazon to offer a wide variety of products at competitive prices, many of which can be delivered in two days (or less). And–until this mess–people expected Volkswagen to offer up a selection of mid-priced cars that drove like a dream and included models with “clean” diesel engines.

I bought my Volkswagen Passat Wagen in 2004, when I was singularly unimpressed with the Subaru Outback, Saturn Vue, and Hyundai Santa Fe. I needed a car that had space for cargo (dogs and kids were on our mind), decent leg-room, speed, and all-wheel (or four-wheel) drive. When my first round of car shopping failed me, we decided to hop up a rung or two on the price ladder, and the 2004 Wagen fit the bill nicely. It drove beautifully (cornered well and sped up nicely off the line), and it had all the features I wanted–plus more. For some reason, VW decided to stop making that car maybe a year or so after mine was manufactured, which is a shame–because it’s a great car. Scratch that: it’s a WONDERFUL car.

In 2007, as we were heading home from a trip to Target, we came to a stop at the four-way stop right near our house. It was my turn to go a few moments later, so I started to move. The next thing I knew, there was a loud BANG and the car seemed to shift to the right. I was confused: what happened? I looked to my left, and there was a Toyota Camry (or Camry-esque car), crashed into mine. The woman driving the other vehicle had blown through the stop sign. She tried to pass it off as my having gone out of turn, but a walker passing by dismissed that–having seen the whole thing–and since the other driver couldn’t have inflicted that much damage coming off a cold stop, the police officer who came also made it clear SHE was at fault. The lack of skid marks also showed that she hadn’t even tried to stop suddenly.

So, let’s review: I was driving my VW Passat Wagen when I was hit by a woman driving a full-size car going 35-40mph (that didn’t even brake). My then-infant daughter was in her car seat in the backseat (passenger-side), and dh was in the passenger seat in front. He got out of the car and removed dd’s infant carrier from the back. My door wouldn’t open, but I unbuckled and crawled out the passenger side. Unharmed. Unbruised. Undamaged. It was like one of those VW ads from a few years ago, where the car would crumple but the people were untouched.

I’m finally in the market for a new car, since (at 11 years old) the annual repair bills are starting to add up to nearly the cost of new car payments. The primary thing stopping me from buying a VW is that they aren’t selling MY car anymore. I can’t afford a Toureg, the Golf Wagen doesn’t yet come in all-wheel drive (and with VW planning to forgo investments in 2016, I wonder if they’ll even bring the German model I lusted after across the Pond next Fall as previously planned), and the salesman I met with a couple of months ago was decidedly lukewarm about showing me a Tiguan. All that added up to me putting a deposit down on a Subaru, but I’m still shedding tears for my current car while I wait for my new one to be built.

My Volkswagen saved my life–and potentially that of my husband and daughter.

If a car’s exhaust isn’t as clean as it promises to be, that sucks. No two ways about it. But those emissions issues don’t equate to a safety issue. Volkswagens are built like tanks, and that “Drivers Wanted” tagline makes sense to anyone who’s ever owned one: they drive like they were designed for people who love to drive.

People can be as ticked off as they want, but I will always love VW because I owe them a debt I can never repay. And so I sympathize with all the diesel owners who feel betrayed because their environmental stewardship wasn’t what they were promised. VW cheated. And while it’s accurate to point out that VW won’t be the first–or last–company to try to pull a fast one, that’s cold comfort for these folks.

But it’s not a safety issue. So VW will pay to fix the cars, and they’ll keep paying–in fines, loss of sales, brand erosion…and yet, I’ll always consider them. I’ll always recommend them. Even if I love the Subaru that’s taking its sweet time getting here, I’ll always consider VW an option and would switch back in a heartbeat.

I’m sure Drivers are still Wanted. And everyone is free to decide which cars they want to consider, but Volkswagen is better than the actions of a few crooked executives: and I’m living proof of that.

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