How not to do it – lessons from Volkswagen six months on

What comes to mind when I mention ‘Volkswagen’? No doubt your initial reaction would be to associate the car manufacturers with the not so little mishap they encountered last year. The recent edition of Wildfire discusses how Volkswagen (VW) have become the perfect example of how not to do public relations, and the practical lessons to be learnt from the company’s faults. To be more specific, I am referring to last September when the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) found that Volkswagen had been misleading their consumers into trusting that the car engines were environmentally friendly. The unfortunate reality revealed itself to be quite the opposite, as the company admitted to having cheated emissions tests in the US and confirmed the production of 600,000 diesel vehicles which were emitting up to 40 times the legal pollution limits.

It has been six months since VW came clean about their dirty emissions, and it’s interesting to see how the company’s PR tactics have progressed during that time.

For the duration of the time that has passed since admitting to having deceived consumers, the car manufacturers have kept a lengthy distance from the media’s spotlight. However, as talks slowly begin to resurface this month around the 2018 release of their newly improved family Polo hatchback, it would seem VW are gradually preparing to make their comeback. Having read a recent article in the Wall Street Journal (WSJ) it would certainly seem that they’re working towards generating attention around their new company culture, and this is a message that will need to travel far and wide before consumers willingly move on from the company’s wrongdoings.

The WSJ article also refers to the discussions taking place between EPA US authorities and VW regarding the potential production of electrical vehicles in Tennessee as a means of making amends. The aim of this potential agreement would be to make a network of charging stations for electrical vehicles in the US, but this is yet to be confirmed, and at this point, does the confirmation really matter? Matthias Müller, the new CEO, is quoted saying, “The difference is like night and day”, and this is exactly what the VW consumers need to hear, repeatedly and in equal measures of clarity until the release of the flagship Polo family SUV in 2018.

Six months on from not only the embarrassing events of 2015, but even more so, the distressing tactics used to control the situation, and it appears a more thoughtful approach is being taken to the re-emergence of the band.  Having stayed under the radar for a few months, the next move for VW will be essential in rebuilding their brand loyalty with consumers. Particularly in an age where smart cars and environmental consciousness are becoming a required fashion for more people, wiping the VW slate clean of the smog left from this organisational disaster is going to be key moving forward.

Wildfire is the BlueSky Education publication dedicated to providing the business education community with media insights and advice to improve the visibility of your institution, staff and students.  To read the most recent edition download the recent edition of Wildfire here.

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