If the world’s top selling auto maker hopes to recover from scandal paralyzing the company, it will take more than the CEO of Volkswagen resigning, a crisis public relations expert says.
“Saying you ‘screwed up‘ and resigning are good first steps,” says Glenn Selig, founder and chief strategist at the PR firm The Publicity Agency. “But those steps don’t answer critical questions such as how this could have happened at VW and what the company will do to regain the public’s trust.”
The Volkswagen scandal erupted on Friday, when U.S. regulators announced that VW rigged a half-million diesel vehicles to produce lower levels of emissions during government testing than the vehicles actually produced. The following day, Volkswagen not only said that was true, but that the problem was far worse: The deception impacted 11 million vehicles around the world, not 500-thousand.
“Millions of people all over the world trust our brands, our cars and our technology. I am deeply sorry we have broken this trust,” said VW’s then-CEO Martin Winterkorn. “I would like to make a formal apology to our customers, to the authorities, and to the general public for this misconduct.”
Winterkorn has since resigned, but denied any wrongdoing in the VW scandal.
Volkswagen scandal: Auto maker’s tarnished image
“This has tarnished a huge, iconic company, so it’s going to be a long and slow process to restore this company,” Karen Brenner, a business professor who is executive director of law and business initiatives at New York University told the Washington Post. “The damage is only beginning to unfold.”
Damage this deep cannot be repaired quickly, concurred crisis PR crisis executive Selig.
“How many people knew about this deception? Clearly it wasn’t only the CEO so others need to resign or be fired,” says Selig. “The company must regain the trust and you do that by extricating Volkswagen of the people who were responsible and by creating a mechanism of checks and balances to make sure something like deceiving regulators never happens again.”
The public’s reaction on social media has been fierce, harsh and critical of VW.
This @VW scandal is *unbelievable*. I bought a 2012 Jetta Sportwagen TDI largely for its fuel economy, and now realize I’ve been swindled.
— Joe DeCarolis (@jfdecarolis) September 21, 2015
The VW scandal could become what one can reasonably call an exogenous shock to the German economy. — Edward Harrison (@edwardnh) September 24, 2015
VW scandal neatly shows how climate change is a product of unrestrained capitalism and wealth accumulation. Climate change is a class issue.
— Ellie Mae O’Hagan (@MissEllieMae) September 22, 2015
Selig points out this was not an oversight or a mistake, which would be bad enough, but a plot to lie to regulators.
“This appears to be a conspiracy that common sense would tell you involved multiple departments and multiple executives that were either in on the plot or complicit,” says Selig (@glennselig on Twitter). “VW must show by its actions that the company recognizes the seriousness of its transgressions, come clean with anything else that may still come out, and be completely transparent moving forward.
“The future of the Volkswagen brand is at stake. These transgressions suggest a company that deliberately lied and therefore, right now, cannot be trusted. VW must restore trust with regulators and consumers by showing that you understand the magnitude of transgression, fix the culture in the company that allowed this to happen, and create a new structure that makes sure nothing like this ever happens again.”
Volkswagen has set aside $7.2-billion to cover costs relating to the VW scandal. VW dealerships across the country say the scandal has impacted sales.
SOURCE: The Publicity Agency
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