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What can small businesses learn from the Volkswagen emissions incident?

Not a day goes by without some media hype about the Volkswagen situation and it doesn’t look to be ending soon. While the situation is undoubtedly serious, it is a perfect example of the media whipping up a furore over an incident to make headlines. While bringing it to the public domain was necessary, the continued sensationalism is not.

As a small business, there is a lot to learn from this situation. If you’re even thinking of starting a small business, remember this lesson as it is going to cost Volkswagen billions.

What is the VW emission “scandal”

In case you have been holidaying somewhere without TV, Volkswagen fitted a clever piece of software that could detect when the car was being emissions tested. The device tweaked the engine so it could pass the emissions test. Once it detected the test was over, it switched off.

The aim of the device was to lower emissions as much as possible so it could pass government emissions testing. Somehow, the American EPA figured out that they were being played and identified the device. Volkswagen was caught cheating.

What does it mean for the average VW owner?

Absolutely nothing. Even if you own a VW with an EA189 engine, it still doesn’t mean anything apart from you were deceived by VW. That’s only if you paid attention to the emissions figures.

This is the key point, yes VW lied to the world and they really shouldn’t have. However the owner is not affected in any physical or financial way whatsoever.

The device is dormant during normal driving ? So doesn’t affect your driving experience.

People buy VW for build quality, residual values, design and features over emissions ? Few people buy VW cars purely because of their emissions.

If you believe MPG and emissions figures published by manufacturers you need your head read anyway ? These figures are idealistic ones to be used as a guideline only. Real driving does not in any way reflect MPG or emissions figures.

Until governments revise VW emission figures in terms of tax, drivers are not impacted at all ? Even company car drivers won’t pay more for a while yet. Given the glacial rate of movement at Whitehall or Brussels, it will be months or years before anything does.

The only way it impacts Volkswagen owners is by the fact your car pollutes more than you thought it did. While pollution is bad and we do need to reduce it as much as we can, it doesn’t warrant the hyperbole currently being spouted by the media.

So what can a small business learn from VW?

The biggest lesson here is to never, ever lie to your customers. Ever. If your product isn’t good enough to meet industry standards, don’t release it. If you don’t think you can live up to expectations, don’t do it. If you can’t attract and keep business by being straight with the market, you’re in the wrong business.

You can fool some of the people some of the time?

There is no doubt that Volkswagen did wrong. They should never have released this engine if it wasn’t ready. They should never have installed a device to try to game the system. They should never have tried to get away with what they did. But most importantly, they should never have tried to pull the wool over the eyes of their customers.

There is nothing wrong with positive spin. There is nothing wrong with marketing and promoting a product in the best light possible. But never lie. If Americans can figure it out, anyone can.

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