24 hours and counting

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Driving from Charleston to Atlanta this week on a family vacation, I learned three things:

  1. The route covers 306.98 miles by car or 266.39 miles as the crow flies. (But when you’re on vacation, who’s counting?)
  2. A car with standard mileage will need 14.21 gallons of gas, a dozen barbecued chicken wings, half a dozen Krispy Kreme donuts and a Dr. Pepper to make the trip. (But with gas prices still hovering around $2/gallon, who’s counting?)
  3. The average car will release 278.44 pounds of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, with a corresponding carbon footprint of 0.91 pounds of CO2 per mile.

Of course, if you’re driving a 2013 VW Golf TDI that’s spewing nitrogen oxide at 40 times the legal limit, it’s a different story. In that case, you’re counting. Fortunately, we’re not driving the VW Golf TDI. I left mine at home, and we’re enjoying the open road in a brand-new 2016 MINI Cooper Countryman instead.

Yet I’m still counting – counting the hours until Volkswagen’s next deadline. Set for tomorrow, April 21st, this is the big one, when VW’s legal team will update U.S. District Court Judge Charles Breyer on their talks with the EPA. This is the deadline VW owners have been waiting for since last September when the scandal first broke. This is when we find out how VW will handle the recall and compensation.

Or we’ll find out the drama will drag on in federal court all summer. Either way, I’m counting. Tick tock, tick tock.

Meanwhile, 120 hours ago…

Since my last post, I’ve learned VW appointed Hinrich J. Woebcken the new CEO of Volkswagen Group of America, replacing Michael Horn who resigned in March after attempting to quell owner backlash with a generous goodwill offer. According to Autoweek, that means Woebcken will be “overseeing a massive and likely complicated recall program that will continue to affect sales.”

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Mini Cooper speedometer, aka Big Ears

Given that distinct possibility (and just in case you were wondering), it’s no accident we rented a MINI Cooper. If things don’t work out in my favor, this VW owner may soon be defecting to BMW. The MINI Cooper Countryman is a bit quirky and boxy compared with VW’s sleek German-engineered style. The Countryman’s speedometer, for instance, is a huge round dial that sits smack in the center of the dashboard. Flanked by two smaller controls, the whole thing bears an uncanny resemblance to Mickey Mouse. Still, it’s cute and easy to park, and the trunk holds two large suitcases and then some. It also zips down the highway at my kind of speed (lightning).

Speaking of which, driving down south definitely gives you a fresh perspective on driving up north. The highways, for the most part, are cement two-lane affairs full of cracks. They provide little in the way of scenery besides swampland and decaying sycamores dripping with Spanish moss. And what is it with all the broken-down vehicles on the side of the road? Weird.

4 hours and 40 minutes (more or less)

Of course, this wouldn’t be a Leadfoot post if I didn’t mention Georgia’s state police, which creep along the median like alligators ready to strike. Snap, snap. Snap, snap, snap, snap, snap. Lucky for us, there’s Waze, which makes evading them a snap on the 4-hour and 40-minute drive from Charleston to Atlanta (four hours if you’re really lucky).

One final note while I’m on the subject of the popo. Check out the advertising on the squad car parked outside the Savannah police station. If one thing’s for sure, the Savannah cops have a sense of humor. Nonetheless, I still wouldn’t want to be pulled over by one, since I doubt getting out of a ticket down here would be a snap.

So I’ll play by the rules and stay patient while I count the final hours and hope the outcome was worth waiting for. Are you a VW diesel owner with thoughts on the subject? Let’s keep the conversation going. It helps the hours go by.

The EPA, DOJ, FTC…WTF!

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VW, I’m sorry. I love you, but I’ve just about had it with you. First, it was the emissions scandal last September, which has left owners waiting, dealers and employees worried and the EPA all fired up ever since. Then in March, you woke up the U.S. Dept. of Justice over allegations of bank fraud. And now it’s April, a month that typically brings rain showers and a trickle of car buyers. Instead, it’s brought on a deluge of deceptive advertising charges from the FTC – charges that could amount to one of the worst false advertising cases in U.S. history. Great. Just great.

I mean, come on. Those are serious charges attached to a whole lotta very scary acronyms. In fact, you’d be hard pressed to find scarier ones on this entire planet. Well, okay, I can think of a couple. And I shudder to think what would happen if you pissed them off.

Stop talking dirty to me

And so, VW, that brings me to the question legions of brand loyalists worldwide are asking: WTF is going on over there in Wolfsburg, Germany? Or should I say Auburn Hills, Michigan? Either way, you’ve committed far worse than alleged crimes here – crimes that, for the record, could set you back close to $40 billion in damages and fees. That’s more than three times the cost of the GM bailout.

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Picture: Alamy, courtesy of The Australian.

And that doesn’t even begin to account for the damage to your brand. Generations of Americans, myself included, have loved the VW brand for decades. The same goes for your diehard drivers in Europe. We’ve loved your advertising, too – and your cheeky “Old Wives’ Tales About Diesel” campaign was no exception.

True confession time (again)

Okay, now I have to come clean. Back in the heydays (2000-2005), I worked on Volkswagen advertising. I was on the team that launched “Drivers wanted. NVWshirtARTo, I didn’t make the TV commercials. But I made enough of everything else to become convinced this brand was really special. The cars had style and personality. They were “German-engineered” and fun to drive. They were packed with premium standard features. And they scored consistently high on value.

I’m not sure whether my working on the VW account makes this harder for me to take, but it certainly doesn’t help. And looking back, I have to wonder: Was there anything shady going on? Was I perpetrating lies without knowing it? There’s only one higher power that can answer that question. And it ain’t the EPA.

What’s your feeling about all of this? Any personal stories about Volkswagen diesels that you’d like to share? Do tell. Leadfoot can totally empathize.