The new CEO of Volkswagen had a nice chat with securities analysts last week, in which he largely elided over the company’s strategy for recovering from its legal woes, but said his employees worldwide would be free to have “more fun.”
So far, it’s been super fun. The $1.83 billion quarterly loss in the third quarter was, for example, funner than being drowned in a vat of rancid whale semen.
But not much.
Matthias Mueller was most likely alluding to the days of kein vergnugen under his ousted predecessor Martin Winterkorn, whose management style was somewhere between that of Steve Jobs and a Turkish jailer. It was under Winterkorn’s watch, of course, that VW took German engineering to a whole new level, by fitting 11 million diesel cars with the ability to trick emissions-testing equipment. This is what triggered the legal problems, which when the fines are all tallied worldwide may chew up far more than the $7 billion the company has set aside for putting the episode in its rear-view mirror.
Meantime, it has lost $25 billion of its market value.
On the plus side, any day now Greece might stop pointing and laughing.
In another fun development, the first post-scandal advertising has broken for the Touran MPV with the slogan “Das Auto” intact. Some had speculated the worldwide backlash to systematic fraud would force the automaker to alter its approach, perhaps along the lines of “This is not your fatherland’s VW” or simply, “I have sinnnnnnnnned.”
Nope. Same old same old. The creative, like the nitrogen oxides from a VW diesel, was clearly in the pipeline before the scandal broke. The spot features a parent willing to humiliate himself in public for the sake of something more important than his own dignity. He’s dressed like a superhero, but clearly lacking in any actual super powers. Herr Mueller, what’s German for “irony?”
This is not the way begin the long road back. Your messaging doesn’t have to be pitiful and abject. You don’t have to go full Swaggart. But at least signal you don’t think this will all just blow over. Something. Anything. Free curly fries with every purchase? Dude, throw us a bone.
Let me just share some brand names with you: Firestone. Drexel Burnham Lambert. WorldCom. Milli Vanilli. The public tends to hold a grudge. This might not be the best time to stand pat. You may recall that back when, J&J pulled all Tylenol from all shelves everywhere…and had itself done nothing wrong. Domino’s put its entire business at risk by coming clean on its awful, awful corporate secret -- that’s its pizza was kinda bland. Not that it was using dioxin in its twisty bread. Just a flavor deficit.
VW played three-card Monte with 11 million customers, a number of major governments and one very prominent atmosphere. And it’s sticking with Das Auto?
Hey! Let’s have some wordplay fun! Instead, I propose: “Das tardly.”