Pollution Controlled

The Attributer tries to choose subjects that are topical, so it is important to choose a ‘title attribute’ that is self-explanatory. When it was agreed that the VW scandal would be a good topic, finding a suitable title/attribute was at first puzzling. In calling it ‘pollution controlled’ there is explicit intent to explore the wider meaning of ‘polluted’. Not just atmospheric pollution, but pollution of corporate values and trust in technological industry in general. There are many aspects of ‘pollution’ to be explored with this SABSA attribute.

Cyber crime and cyber security are popping up in new and unexpected places. Who would have thought that cyber fraud would be committed by one of the world’s most famous car manufacturers? What is perhaps more surprising is that they clearly expected to get away with it. Otherwise why would they have invested their entire reputation in this outrageous scam? Here is a quotation from The New York Times on 23rd September 2015, by contributing writer, Zeynep Tufekci, which nicely sums up the situation.

For the past six years, Volkswagen has been advertising a lie: “top-notch clean diesel” cars — fuel efficient, powerful and compliant with emissions standards for pollutants. It turns out the cars weren’t so clean. They were cheating.’

Wow! VW is an old and respected brand. It takes a long time to build up a brand of such value, an asset that the company trades on for the future of its business. Such a brand can be irreparably damaged by a scandal like this, to the point of no return. One wonders how this damage will affect the future of VW, if indeed VW has a future. Let’s see what’s at stake here.

It is not uncommon for product vendors to exaggerate the efficacy of their wares in a competitive market. It’s part of the game of advertising – up to a point. Anti-aging creams come to mind, but then the sales pitch is to the vanity of the buyer, and so long as she/he feels happier for using the product, the actual performance of skin preservation might not be all that important, because the value proposition is an emotional one rather than material. Maybe. But that certainly does not apply here.

VW broke the laws on atmospheric pollution standards, knowingly and deliberately. They designed into their car software a deceiving device that would fool the test procedure. Automobile production is a highly regulated industry in many ways, mostly to do with driver and passenger safety standards. In this case the regulations have far reaching global effects that concern the health and safety of every citizen in the world, not only the buyers of VW diesel cars. Surely legal proceedings must follow on both a criminal and civil law basis.

Then there are the owners of these 11 million cars, who have, overnight, suffered a huge drop in value of the car they own. One can sense the building pressure of one of the largest civil law class actions ever mounted, because it’s hard to imagine a similar case with so many potential litigants. The US Federal Government also has a case to bring, since, according to the New York Times, $51 million in subsidies has been paid to some owners to change to ‘clean diesel’. The question of ‘is diesel really clean’ has also been re-opened, which impacts the entire automobile industry.

So how might SABSA thinking have made a difference? VW saw an opportunity and took a risk. So far, so good. What they apparently did not do was to take a rigorous detailed look at all the potential downside risks embedded in the risk scenario – the threats that were associated with this criminal opportunity. One must also ask how the corporate governance processes were unable to control the ‘polluted thinking’ at whatever level of management this foolish decision was made. SABSA thinking has application everywhere, because every decision is a risk decision.

The Attributer