The Volkswagen shock

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The Volkswagen shock

The world’s leading carmaker, Volkswagen, rigged their diesel vehicles to pass emission tests in the United States, triggering repercussions around the globe. Following the shock of U.S. customers over the betrayal by an automaker that had earned their trust for decades, a number of importing countries, including Korea, have decided to launch thorough investigations of Volkswagen vehicles, which critically tainted the reputation of the world-renowned carmaker, not to mention causing a colossal financial loss due to the evaporation of its market capitalization. Even German Chancellor Angela Merkel called for “complete transparency” on the issue, clearly aware of the unavoidable damage to the nation’s image as an industrial powerhouse.

Korean customers, too, were shocked by the news. They trusted the quality of Volkswagen cars to the extent that one out of three foreign cars in this country is a Volkswagen or one of its other brands such as Audi. The company’s audacious manipulation of emission data makes us wonder how much we can trust car manufactures at home or overseas.

Korean carmakers are not free from the repercussions emanating from Volkswagen. The incident has raised a fundamental question on whether diesel technology - a frontrunner in eco-friendly engines for the future - is really a clean technology or not. In the tough competition between the Europe-led diesel-engine group and the Japan-led hybrid-car group, the former has so far taken the lead. As a result, diesel cars accounted for more than half of all automobiles sold in Korea in the first half of the year thanks to domestic carmakers’ concentration on the category.

A U.S. environmental advocacy group discovered after a thorough two-year probe into emissions from Volkswagen cars with TDI engines - such as 2009-14 Jettas, Beetles and 2014-15 Passats - that they emit a whopping 40 times more pollutants than the allowed standards. Volkswagen recently apologized for creating software for its TDI diesel engines that cheated EPA emissions tests. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency decided to investigate other diesel carmakers as well, thrusting the entire diesel industry into a colossal crisis.

Domestic car companies are exempt from the U.S. government’s investigations, as they didn’t sell diesel cars in America. But we cannot rule out the possibility that distrust of diesel cars will spread. We hope our car industry establishes an honest management system knowing they can’t survive fierce competition unless they do their best to create genuinely eco-friendly engines.

JoongAng Ilbo, Sept. 24, Page 30

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