Great, now I’m stuck with V-double-dealing you!


So I finally heard from him. He wanted to talk about our relationship. He said he had good news and bad news. Typical.

“Him,” as you may have guessed from my last post, is VW’s invisible spokesman for the notorious diesel emissions scandal, which broke last September and, 10 months later, is finally on its way to resolution. For diesel owners like me, the settlement announcement on June 28th was indeed good news and bad news. Good, because it includes cash incentives as high as $10,000 per vehicle. Bad, because anyone considering another make will now have a really tough time walking away.

No wonder I feel trapped.

Here’s the gist: Volkswagen has agreed to pay $10.03 billion to buy back roughly 500,000 American “clean diesel” car models built this decade – and some as far back as 2009 – at pre-scandal values. In addition, VW will give owners cash incentives for the affected vehicles to the tune of $5,100 to $10,000.

Owners can opt instead to have their rigged engines repaired to meet emissions standards, but doing so will more than likely compromise both performance and mileage. What’s more, the fix is still subject to EPA approval.

In a statement to the New York Times, David M. Uhlmann, a former chief of the Justice Department’s Environmental Crimes section and a University of Michigan law professor, said, “It’s hard to see why consumers would want to take advantage of the fix and not the buyback option, unless they just love their cars.”

IMG_3662Roger that, Mr. Uhlmann, but I would hasten to add there are degrees of love. I, for one, happen to L-O-V-E my 2013 Golf TDI, but I am not about to go through the hassle of getting it fixed. For one thing, to my ear, that sounds a lot like fixing a cat and almost certainly results in the same outcome – that is to say, a profound reduction in performance. For another thing, I bought my “clean diesel” vehicle, because I have a mega-commute and it offered exceptional gas mileage. Three years and 130,000 miles later, there’s hardly an upside to getting it “fixed,” even though it could easily go for another 100,000 miles or more.

Now let’s talk environmental damage.

I haven’t even mentioned the environmental damage VW has done and that all of us unwitting VW owners have been a party to by driving these unclean diesels. When you add in the $2.7 billion Volkswagen has agreed to pay the EPA to make up for the environmental impact, the price tag on this scandal just continues to soar. On top of the EPA fines, Volkswagen has apparently also pledged to spend $2 billion developing new cleaner vehicles.

Altogether, VW’s civil settlement is the largest ever by an automobile company, well in excess of the $1.4 billion Toyota paid out for its class-action lawsuit over defective accelerators or even the $2 billion GM has paid for its faulty ignition switch debacle.

The New York Times and the automotive press have all reported that VW’s civil settlement will probably end up closer to the $18.7 billion agreement British Petroleum reached in 2015 to settle claims stemming from its 2010 Gulf of Mexico oil spill. Prior to the VW diesel case, BP’s civil settlement was “the largest with any single entity in the nation’s history.”

Volkswagen has already set aside $18 billion to cover fines and compensation to owners in the civil suit. But sadly, it’s not enough. VW’s legal problems only go on from there.

The automaker is also in hot water with the Justice Department, along with attorneys general in almost every state, for defrauding consumers. VW is feeling the heat from financial regulators in New York and other states as well, who are investigating whether the company overcharged consumers who leased or financed their diesels.

The next best thing to divorce?

1-2R11oIkB3q6Fnnk-beAIvwFor those of us who are in this sham of a relationship with Volkswagen, this latest news brings some sense of justice. I just wish I didn’t have to hear it in dribs and drabs from the media. It feels like everybody’s talking about our relationship except V-double-dealing-you and me. It’s hard enough to trust a brand that deceived its customers so blatantly. An email every once in a while or a good old-fashioned letter in the mail would have gone a long way toward winning me back over these last 10 months.

Instead, I’ll probably tip-toe back into a dealership this fall and drive away with yet another Volkswagen, like some scorned woman who takes her man back knowing he’s been committing crimes of passion for years.

Our relationship will never be the same, and that’s so disappointing. After all, we go way, way back, VW and me. In my lifetime, I’ve owned at least a half-dozen models and have always been an enthusiastic brand evangelist. I’ve even helped VW build this brand on a professional level, having worked on the advertising business for five years.

1972 VW Hatchback in Saturn Yellow

I also find it unsettling that VW has done little to support dealers in this whole situation. And, as reported in an excellent recent article in ZDNet, that gives dealers no added leverage to retain their customers’ business. No free extended service contracts. No markdowns on new purchases. No reason for existing diesel owners to stay loyal to VW, except the government-imposed bribe and blind faith.

It’s hard to accept this sad state of affairs, but I know this, VW: No matter how much money you throw at me, or how many promises you make, you’ll never have the upper hand again.

Do you own a VW diesel and feel the same way? Tell me about it. We’ll feel less stuck if we stick together on this.


















Enough, already!

775818768061a978075063802d25e80bOh, Volkswagen, what are you doing to me? Yes, me. It’s no longer merely global. It’s personal. Because the longer you take to resolve the emissions issue, the more I feel like a jilted lover.

You see, my Golf TDI was my dream car. Fuel-efficient yet fun to drive. Plenty of cargo room yet easy to park. Sporty yet chic. Smooth on the corners, quick off the line. A killer sound system. An intelligently designed dash. A comfy driver’s seat with good lumbar support. Powerful. Reliable. Black.

Lies. Lies. And more lies.

Everything was perfect. It was the best car relationship I’d ever had. Until I found out you were hiding deep, dark secrets. There were lies, deception, cheating. You pretended to be something you weren’t, and now I’m stuck with you.

20150408151259-divorce-husband-wife-problems-broken-relationships-disagree-marriage-coupleOh sure, you’re still with me, but you’ve abandoned me emotionally. You keep saying you’re going to change. You’re going to fix everything. But you don’t. You just keep asking for more time.

Well, enough already! I want answers. I need an explanation. But most of all, I need to know what this means for us long term. As a devoted VW driver who’s put 130,000 miles on her beloved Golf TDI in three years, I may be looking for a new set of wheels soon. So I need to know, will I have to shop around? Do I have to look at a Honda? A Subaru? Or worse, a Toyota? I’ll tell you what, that electric blue Mini Cooper I drove in Georgia is looking more attractive every day. And I hate electric blue.

Maybe I should move to Europe.

I see that Volkswagen AG started recalling the millions of tainted diesels in Europe last Friday. According to the Wall Street Journal, 800,000 owners are about to get their fix. Surely, there’s some lucky girl among them.

I know our European friends waited a long time, too. Apparently, according to WSJ, “fixing the cars has proven more difficult than initially expected. In Europe, where around 8.5 million of the affected vehicles are on the road, Volkswagen must seek approval for its prescribed fix for each model type separately, a tedious and complex process.”

la-baie-des-anges-1965-27mm21ss-stillOf course, it’s complex! The best relationships are! I just don’t understand how a brand like VW could let its valued customer relationships languish like this. So what if “the recall was delayed by several months as the KBA motor vehicle authority insisted the fix have no impact on fuel economy”? I get that, but what about the impact on our relationship???

Meanwhile, stateside.

While VW may be patching things up in Europe, they’re still in a heated battle with authorities and lawyers for a U.S. class action suit representing over 600,000 affected domestic diesel owners. In April, VW and U.S. authorities reportedly reached a preliminary agreement to buy back, repair and/or compensate U.S. owners. In May, the federal court judge presiding over the case said VW was “on track to reach a final agreement by a June 21 deadline.”

Calendar. 21 June.

June, it seems, is shaping up to be a big month for VW. In other news, Volkswagen AG is slated to announce a new strategy in mid-June, according to excerpts of a speech by CEO Matthias Mueller in May.

“We want to lead Volkswagen out of the company’s most difficult situation ever and shape it into a mobility provider,” Mueller said. According to Automotive News, over 250 employees are involved in shaping the plan through 2025. The so-called “Strategy 2025” will focus on “the customer with his wishes and needs,” Mueller went on to say. “In the end, a strategy is only good if it leads to products that excite people and that they want to buy.”

Hmm. So does this mean I have to wait until 2025 to be excited about Volkswagen again? I’m sorry, VW, but I don’t love you that much.

On the other hand, if this new mobility play includes a lifetime supply of back massages, we might have something to talk about.





24 hours and counting


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.”

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.



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.

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.

The Magic of Audio


One of the surprise benefits of driving 200 miles a day is getting the time to decompress in the privacy of your car and essentially do – or listen to – whatever you want. Until I started this commute, I hadn’t picked up a book in 10 years. And because I never had time to read the paper nor the patience for TV news, I had only the vaguest notion of what was going on in the world. (Can you relate?) Needless to say, book clubs weren’t an option for me. Cocktail parties made me anxious. And dinner conversation could only go so far.

Now I’m well-read and well-informed – thanks to the magic of audio books, radio and podcasts. There’s a big, fascinating world out there, and I LOVE listening to it.

Here’s what I’ve “read” and what I can’t wait to plug into on my next commute. Thank you, NHPR, OverDrive, Audible, Goodreads and SiriusXM Satellite Radio for making it all possible.


I love being read to. It’s one of the purest delights in life, instilled in us from early childhood. Thanks8765 to audio books and apps like Audible and OverDrive, the simple pleasure of being read to is no longer confined to the private domain of thumb-sucking three-year-olds. Here’s a small sampling of the audio books I’ve devoured this year, along with a short list of favorite authors (I  you, Nora Ephron) and voiceover artists.

17262366  7815 16340250 17465453 6828896 15790837 20910157 941832720484545BloodBonesButter1584185282421177324659



I love funny people. Who doesn’t, right? Lucky for all of us, some of the funniest people out there write books. Even better, they narrate them. Besides Nora Ephron, my favorite humorists include Tina Fey, Anthony Bourdain, Amy Poehler and David Sedaris, not necessarily in that order. I’ve also laughed out loud while listening to Ellen DeGeneres, Mindy Kaling and Betty White. Yes, Betty White. She’s a comedian. She wrote a book. And her name is Betty. What’s not to like?


SerialSerialConceived by the creators of This American Life and hosted by Sarah Koenig, Serial “tells one story – a true story – over the course of an entire season.” The current series delves into the plight of Bowe Bergdahl, a U.S. Army soldier held captive by the Taliban in Afghanistan and Pakistan for five years. It’s storytelling and audio production at their chilling best. Prepare for multiple driveway moments.

DesignMattersDesign Matters with Debbie MillmanLed by author, educator, brand strategist and design luminary in her own right, Debbie Millman, this is a must for anyone interested in thought-provoking conversation about design and creative culture. Debbie’s guests have included Massimo Vignelli, Milton Glaser, Malcolm Gladwell, Barbara Kruger, Seth Godin, to name just a few. Design Matters made iTunes best podcast list in 2015.

TastTaste-Trekkers-Twitter-Icon-180x180-150x150e TrekkersTaste Trekkers is for foodies who love travel and travelers who love food. In each episode of Taste Trekkers’ Find Dining Podcast, founder and host Seth Resler explores a different city or region, discussing the local dining scene with a chef or culinary expert from the area. It’s a delicious way to research your next culinary adventure.

Corncorner_office_finer Office from Marketplace – If you love the wry, irreverant and mellifluous musings of Kai Ryssdal on NPR’s Marketplace (as I clearly do), you’ll love Conversations from the Corner Office. Each episode brings you “inside the room” with the business leaders transforming our economy, our culture and our daily lives. Kai leads the conversation as only Kai can.

Germany Pounds on the Horn

Michael Horn, President and CEO of Volkswagen America, reacts to being mobbed by the media after he apologized for the Volkswagen diesel scandal at the LA Auto Show in Los Angeles
Photograph by Lucy Nicholson for Reuters

It appears the finger pointing at Volkswagen is only going to get nastier. Six months after the now-infamous diesel scandal broke, Volkswagen of America CEO Michael Horn has stepped down from his post. His departure comes amid mounting pressure from VW world headquarters in Wolfsburg, Germany, and stalled talks with the EPA on a fix for the emissions issue, which the company estimates will impact upwards of 600,000 vehicles worldwide.

The news sent shock waves through VWoA’s dealer community, which responded with outrage at the “mutual agreement” between the well-respected former CEO and German headquarters. Applauding the progress Horn has made since he took the reins in 2014, VW’s National Dealer Advisory Council labeled the decision yet another sign of “continued mismanagement” at the corporate helm and expressed serious concern about the change in leadership.

“This change in management can only serve to put the company at more risk, not less,” the dealer council said in a statement.

Here Comes the Dealer Backlash

Not surprisingly, US dealers have begun to revolt in the wIMG_3275ake of this sad new twist in the saga and the “culture of mistrust” it continues to perpetuate. VWoA’s national dealer council president, Alan Brown, says dealers have invested over $1 billion in showroom upgrades for the automaker and feel betrayed by its mishandling of the scandal.

“I’m telling you that the dealer network is becoming very, very, very frustrated very quickly,” Brown told USA Today.

And Now, the Justice Department

So Horn isn’t the only one taking a pounding, nor is headquarters the only office inflicting it. Two days ago, in another discouraging turn of events, the Wall Street Journal and Reuters reported the US Justice Department had issued subpoenas targeting VWoA for bank fraud. The investigation falls under the Financial Institutions Reform, Recovery, and Enforcement Act (FIRREA), a civil law enacted in 1989 to extend the statute of limitations on financial fraud cases to 10 years.

These new allegations, according to WSJ, center around the question of whether lenders have “suffered damages from financing Volkswagen vehicles at an inflated price” since as far back as 2007. A similar claim on behalf of consumers may be close behind.

The case stands to only accelerate trouble for VW, which already faces fines of nearly $50 billion for violating the Clean Air Act. Unlike criminal cases, civil cases filed under FIRREA carry a lower burden of proof. In such cases, the “beyond a reasonable doubt” rule doesn’t apply. The Justice Department merely needs to prove the allegations are “more likely than not” true.

And Finally, My Own True Confessions

Does any of this really surprise you? I didn’t think so. In which case, this probably won’t either: Two weeks ago, my husband and I bought a Passat TDI sedan. A used Passat TDI sedan. And yes, it’s on THE LIST. And yes, we bought it because it was prime time to buy a used TDI. The original owner’s loss was our gain.


Wish I could say the same about the Golf TDI I bought brand-new three years ago. Like the owners in the upcoming consumer case, I paid a premium for it. But it was the car I wanted from a brand I’ve always loved – and still do. I also love the 42 mpg I’m getting on the highway and the crazy low prices I’m paying for diesel at the pump.

And so, with spring in the air and summer trips in our plans, we’ll continue to enjoy our fuel-efficient feats of German engineering (and software rigging) and try not to think too much about what we’re doing to the environment. (Pickup trucks, after all, are doing equal or worse damage, and sales have never been better.)

Instead, we’ll keep our faith that a fix will be found, the finger pointing will stop and truth and justice will prevail, leaving yet another beloved brand to the business of rebuilding trust and market share.


Doe! A deer!


First came the stunning admission that several years’ worth of “clean diesel” VWs were rigged to cheat emissions tests. Then came the realization that for almost three years my beloved Golf TDI has been spewing nitrogen oxide at a rate nine times the legal limit. Then came winter (again) and snow and ice (again) and great, big, blinding squalls.

And now I have to worry about deer. Yes, deer. Deer that fly in out of nowhere, hip-check your front fender, graze your right front tire and ricochet off your rim, leaving a little deerskin residue behind in the process. Yeah, that’s a technical term.

Now, don’t get me wrong. It’s not that my newly tricked-out deerskin-trimmed rim doesn’t take automotive accessorizing to a whole new level, as you can see. Or that just a bit gives you a whole lotta bang for the buck. I just wish Bambi had stopped at the rim.

But, of course, Bambi didn’t stop there. He had to go and mess with my fender and bumper, too. Not to mention the damage to my psyche.

Adnuolisphobia (aka Deer Phobia)

So now, in addition to emissions and snow and ice and great, big, blinding squalls, I have to worry about deer. Mind you, it’s not like I didn’t think about them before. I cover 200 miles of highway, four days a week, going back and forth to work. Plus, most of it cuts through lakes-and-mountain country. So, of course, I’ve thought about deer! I just didn’t worry about them.

And apparently, there’s good reason to worry. According to State Farm, over 1.25 million U.S. drivers filed deer collision claims from July 2014 through June 2015, with an average cost per claim of over $4,000. The risk varies by state (see chart below), with the worst odds in West Virginia, where drivers have a 1 in 44 chance of a deer run-in. Montana drivers fare only a little better, with a 1 in 63 chance. In New Hampshire, where I live, the odds are 1 in 252. Go figure.


Little wonder there’s a medical term for the fear of deer: adnuolisphobia, a derivative of adnuolis, the scientific name for white-tailed deer. The most common symptoms of adnuolisphobia are breathlessness, excessive sweating, dry mouth, shaking and heart palpitations. In severe cases, adnuolisphobics suffer from incoherence, loss of control and full-blown anxiety attacks. Hmm, I wonder how a short-term disability claim for adnuolisphobia would go over…

Fear Not, Deer-Wary Drivers

Alas, there’s help for the deer-wary, in the form of commonsense advice from our friends at State Farm. Here, State Farm’s five most important things to do in the event of a deer collision:

  • Move your vehicle to a safe place. Pull off the road if you can, and turn on your hazard lights. If you need to leave your vehicle, stay out of the way of other oncoming vehicles.
  • Call the police. Alert authorities if the deer is blocking traffic. If the collision causes injury or property damage, you may have to fill out an official police report. This report can come in handy when filing your insurance claim.
  • Document the incident. Take photographs of your surroundings, damage to your vehicle, and any injuries to you or your passengers. If there are witnesses, ask for their account of what happened and their contact information.
  • Stay away from the deer. A frightened, wounded animal could harm you.
  • Don’t assume your vehicle is safe to drive. Look for leaking fluid, loose parts, tire damage, broken lights and other safety hazards. When in doubt, call for a tow.
  • Contact your insurance agent. Do this as soon after the incident as you can.

One final piece of advice from State Farm: Make sure you have the right type of insurance. Comprehensive insurance, not collision, covers damages from deer accidents. Contact State Farm to learn more. And be safe out there.

2015 in review

The stats helper monkeys prepared a 2015 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

A San Francisco cable car holds 60 people. This blog was viewed about 320 times in 2015. If it were a cable car, it would take about 5 trips to carry that many people.

Click here to see the complete report.