When Volkswagen Drove The World Crazy

Created on 11 Jul 2022

Wraps up in 4 Min

Read by 5.9k people

Updated on 10 Sep 2022

VW's slogan goes, "If only everything in life was as reliable as a Volkswagen." Heaven forbid!

Volkswagen became the world’s no.1 car maker in 2016, and since then, it has managed to be on the list of the world’s top 5 car makers till now. Though the name of the company literally means “People’s Car”, its practices in history have not been so people-friendly. It is responsible for fooling people with false advertisements and possibly holes in the ozone layer. 

We get to know the scale of the scandals by the then CEO Martin Wintercon’s actions. As soon as their little secret was out in public, he decided to resign from his position. VW has been involved in multiple scams, which they did to become the world’s no.1. Let’s discover the success story and the dark side of Volkswagen - the not-so 'People’s Car'. 

The Success Story

With the aim of mass-producing budget-friendly people’s cars, Volkswagen was founded by the German government in 1937. They set up their headquarters in Wolfsburg Germany. Initially, a Nazi organization called German Labour Front was operating the whole company. Before they could start producing cars, in 1939 World War 2 was announced and the factory was repurposed to create military equipment. The factory got burnt during the war, but it was rebuilt, and finally, mass production started in 1946 under British Supervision. By 1949, more than half of the country’s cars were produced by Volkswagen, and the West German government had all the control over the factory. Soon they expanded in the US as well, with the Beetle car being the most popular one. 

Soon VW was all over the world, including Mexico, Brazil, China, and India. 

Volkswagen also owns Audi and Porsche in Germany, SEAT (Sociedad Española de Automóviles de Turismo) in Spain, Škoda in the Czech Republic, Bentley in the United Kingdom, Lamborghini in Italy, and Bugatti in France.

As VW was moving forward to its goal of becoming the largest car producer in the world, one of the many dark practices, or as we like to call it, their secret to success came into the limelight.

EPA Scandal - Messing With The Environment

In 2015, the Environment Protection Agency (EPA) revealed that Volkwagen was fudging the emission test reports by installing software in their cars that could detect the emission tests and could reduce the number of pollutants released by the car only for that specific time. Originally, the cars were producing around 40 times more pollutants including Nitrogen Oxide, than the allowed limit. 

This software was later referred to as the “defeat device”. VW admitted to having sold around 11 million such cars worldwide - eight million in Europe alone. Some of the Porsche and Audi cars also had this device installed in them. VW faced a fine of $4 billion in total, and many employees were accused of various crimes. But despite this scandal being revealed, the sales of VW cars continued to increase worldwide. 

False Ad Campaigns

For many years, VW has been messing with people’s minds by promoting false ad campaigns of their cars being the most environmentally friendly and budget-friendly available on the market. In 2016, one year after the revelation of the EPA scandal, the Federal Trade Commission filed a lawsuit against VW for false marketing. 

VW was accused and found guilty of selling or leasing more than 550,000 diesel vehicles over seven years, at an average price of about $30,000, using a duplicitous campaign. The scams were coming into the limelight one after the other, but the sales of the cars seemed unstoppable.

Slavery - Abuse and Assault

From 1974 to 1986, Brazil was in full control of the military. VW was accused of having been complicit in “systematic human rights violations” during that period. The car company was working on a large piece of land (70,000 hectares) for the meat trade. 

Hundreds of labourers were recruited for the clearance of the land. They were allegedly the victims of sexual abuse, mistreatment, and violence by the armed forces and many of them just disappeared if they raised a voice. Brazilian prosecutors summoned VW representatives over slavery allegation. The former employees were also not paid their incomes by VW for many years; finally, in 2020 they signed a deal to pay them.

Climate Change 

Recently, a farmer from Germany named Ulf Allhoff Cramer filed a lawsuit against VW for impacting the environment and being responsible for climate change. Due to this, his crops were suffering. He also claimed that drier soil and heavier rain had affected his field, cattle, and commercial forests. The lawsuit is backed by the environmental group Greenpeace, which has backed many such cases in history. 

The farmer is demanding VW optimize the carbon emissions in their vehicles by 2030. However, VW has rejected many such demands previously, saying that they will only be able to do that till 2050. And also that it depends on many other factors like customer behaviour, the market, and other car makers. 

Looking at the amount of pollution that VW’s defeat device installed cars have caused till today, we can partly blame them for climate change.


Despite all the false practices that they have followed, VW is still maintaining the number 2 position among the world's car makers. Many times, while aiming to earn more profit, big organizations forget that Earth is their home too, and they need to show some responsibility towards it.

What do you think? How is VW still managing to sell these many cars? Tell us in the comment section. 

If you like reading about the ‘not so known’ side of businesses, here is another one for you, The Dark Side of popular CEOs.

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Moniq Sharma

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Moniq is a writer, designer, and strategist with a deep understanding of creative marketing. Her curiosity inspires her to learn, write and explain complicated things to people in the most simplified manner. The amount of knowledge present in her surroundings is what drives her the most. She is also building her own content production company, present across major social media platforms

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