*My* Asthma’s Fine, and I Live in a Vanagon

I don’t know why everyone is complaining about Volkswagen. We all make mistakes. That’s why I live in a Vanagon. And do I complain about my asthma? No.

It was an innocent misstep, that’s all. Like my time as CEO of Charybdis Pharmaceuticals, Volkswagen was simply trying to create a great product. If that wound up propping up their short-term share prices so that executives could exercise some lucrative stock options, what does it matter? That’s a win for management and shareholders. More importantly, they were just following an imperative of capitalism taught in business schools everywhere, usually based on case studies of the time that Ayn Rand accidentally opened a book by Kant.

So who cares if their cars dribbled a bit of extra pollution? Sure, 40 times the legal limit sounds like a lot, but do we know from what base that’s calculated? No, we don’t, and the media won’t tell you because they don’t have an MBA. If Volkswagen wanted to pretend their diesel cars only put out gently toasted granola, that’s fair game. Indeed, it’s smart marketing that any educated consumer could have seen through. Whenever I saw one of those newfangled “clean diesels” on my way to Yellowstone, I knew it was just posturing, because the driver was always wearing suspenders and a newsboy. Did I complain about my asthma attacks then? Only when I was behind them.

Model in newsboy cap.
You’re not fooling anybody.

And, let’s be honest here, Volkswagen didn’t exactly pioneer the use defeat devices. Well, they did back in the 1970s. I guess they decided it was due for a comeback, kind of like bell-bottoms for your lungs. But let’s cut them some slack, because very few of us that currently live in a campground in the Dakota badlands can remember what happened in the 1970s. Institutional memories are short-lived. I suppressed mine due to the surreal horror involved in being briefly committed to one. Even then, did I complain about my asthma to the orderlies? No, because I couldn’t stop coughing. My room was next to the highway.

So we’ve all done things we wish we hadn’t. When I was CEO of Charybdis, I once wrote an letter to one of our valued sales staff expressing my gratitude for her repeat “volunteering” for field trials. Fortunately, the lawyers caught it, and instead I sent my request for another rendezvous at the Holiday Inn by email. Do any of the involved parties feel sorry for what they did? Of course not, because that would invalidate the settlement terms. I learned my lesson and spent my golden parachute on asthma medication, owing to what the Audi salesperson said were my car’s “freshening particles.”

In retrospect, Volkswagen should have known that the “clean diesel” moniker was a poor marketing strategy. It’s like “healthy vitamin supplements”—those things are just made out of sawdust and food gums. (Note: I have no personal knowledge of the health effects of vitamin supplements and do not wish to testify.) It would have been much better if VW went with one of my unsolicited recommendations from the time where I was writing FBI-intercepted letters from my pop-top camper: Just use Vin Diesel. That guy knows cars.

TDI and Vin Diesel

But the Germans are smart. In Germany, regular citizens refer to Volkswagen as “Fow Vey,” and pronounce it with a vehement disgust. Do you know why they do that? Because that’s how you say “V W” in German. Their alphabet sounds very different.

Germany also has a great system of cooperative work councils involving management and employees. It’s one of the things that makes their manufacturing economy so strong—no continual struggle between hide-bound unions and greedy corporate management. Instead, they work together to perpetuate fraud on a massive scale. Could that happen in the US? No way. So let’s go easy on Volkswagen. Let’s recognize that we’re all self-defeating devices. Let’s remember that we all just want to earn a good termination package—so we can avoid living out of a Passat made between 2009 and 2015.

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