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.

Ever been hit by a car while walking? Well, now I have… {UPDATED!}

As I’ve mentioned to anybody who’ll stand still long enough, I love my car partially because it’s just such an awesome car and partially because it saved my life 7-1/2yrs ago. So, Volkswagen has held a special place in my heart as a brand that can SAVE LIVES. Those ads they used to run where the people would be talking in the car and then suddenly you’d see them standing on the side of the road next to a wreck of a car that they easily escaped from? Yeah, I’ve had that happen to me.

And now I can add American Tourister to the list of “life-saving” brands.

Last week, I was at a conference in that bastion of civilization, Alexandria, VA. As a native Washingtonian and a naturalized Marylander, I have a general sneer when it comes to the parts of Virginia that are just damned inconvenient to get to, and Alexandria is on that list. As a matter of fact, in the 24 years I lived in the DC area, I think I went to Alexandria TWICE. When I was offered the option to go to a conference there, I pulled on my big girl panties and said, “FINE – I’LL GO TO NOWHERESVILLE NORTHERN VIRGINIA”. (As my Arlington friends chuckle, because they know that I’ll happily hang anywhere on the Orange line and miss my time on Clarendon.)

The last morning of the conference, I was walking the 1/2mi from my hotel to the conference hotel, with my American Tourister rolling bag on my left and my laptop bag across my body, hanging on my right. There is an apartment complex across from the hotel where the conference was held, and the crosswalk in front of it is broken up by a small island (one lane into the complex, island, one lane out). The walk light was firmly lit, so off I went across the first part of the crosswalk...and that’s when it happened.

With no warning, my rolling bag came flying into my left leg and I was promptly dropped on my ass (what I described to others as a very rough version of falling rapidly and harshly on an extremely icy ski slope, in terms of the hardness of the surface). What in the…? I looked up and saw a small white car stop.

Holy crap, I was just hit by a car.

I went over to the driver, who didn’t get out of his car (what a lovely human being!), as he stammered over and over again, “You have to forgive me! Please forgive me!”

I honestly wasn’t sure WHAT to say. I was just hit by a car.

I said a few choice words at the driver – although far fewer than I expected myself to say – and I made it perfectly clear that I wasn’t going to give him the absolution he craved. How do you forgive someone for hitting you with a car? I can understand forgiving someone who accidentally let a door swing shut on you, but that’s not a one-ton thing powered by an engine.

I checked the one leg that felt a little off, and it just sustained some minimal scrapes; it wasn’t until later that I felt somewhat bruised on my hip – but that was also minor and I had a very large bottle of ibuprofen. Honestly, it was the bag that saved my life – or at least my left leg. If I hadn’t had my rolling bag on the side where the car hit, the car would’ve taken out my already dodgy knee, and instead of angrily walking to the conference in shock – and a snit – I would’ve been in an ambulance en route to one of Northern Virginia’s fine hospitals. The suitcase did sustain some minor damage, specifically a crack in one of the handle rods, but I managed to resolve it well enough to get myself home and am now just hoping American Tourister can help me get a replacement handle to solve the problem fully.

The bag in question is this awesome little suitcase that I got as part of my DisneySide party gear; it’s the PERFECT bag for a 2-3 night trip, and now I know it can take some serious body blows…like from a moving vehicle probably going 15mph. I took it on a bunch of trips this year, and it’s small enough that you can stow it easily on a plane or a train, yet it’s also roomy enough that you don’t feel like you’re cramming in just a few days worth of stuff into a one-night bag. It rolls very smoothly and the ball wheels make it super-easy to navigate even without putting it on an incline. It’s also light as all get-out, so it’s very maneuverable and easier to wrestle in/out of an overhead bin.

Party Kit

The awesome American Tourister bag – plus all the lovely party supplies for my #DisneySide party from February

For a better close-up of my new favorite bag (which I actually fell in love with before it saved me from a trip to the hospital), check it out at American Tourister Have A Ball 20″ Spinner.

So, kids, I guess the lessons are as follows:

1. When offered an opportunity to stay at the conference hotel, even if it’s not a Marriott and you won’t get all the awesome points that you want, JUST STAY THERE FOR YOUR OWN SAFETY.

2. Always walk with your rolling bag on the same side as where a car may hit you.

3. ALWAYS take the opportunity to buy a Volkswagen if you have the means; they are built like tanks and that may come in handy someday (hopefully you’ll never need it, like I did).

4. Buy American Tourister. They’ve got a fan for life in me, and now I know my luggage brand of choice from this point forward. Any luggage brand that can keep me out of the hospital wins my money forever.


Update as of January 9, 2015: The lovely folks at American Tourister were proud of their product that saved me, and they told me to keep an eye out for a special “surprise”. Well, they didn’t disappoint…they sent me a brand new three-piece luggage set! WOWEE!!! I didn’t expect that when I originally wrote this post – nor did I ask them for ANYTHING, but I have to say that a brand that saves your life and then thanks you for it – that’s an AMAZING brand and they have my eternal love and gratitude.

What they sent:

My new American Tourister luggage!

pretty in pink!

Just awesome. I simply can’t put it any other way. Thank you, American Tourister!