The news that Volkswagen has been caught rigging pollution tests in the US has shaken Germany to its core.
VW is not just one of Germany’s most successful brands; for many, it came to symbolise the rebuilding of the country’s economy and image after the Second World War.
It was a “national scandal”, the mass market newspaper BZ declared. “It is a disaster... not only for Volkswagen, but for the entire German car industry.”“Dirty Germany” was the headline in Frankfurter Rundschau newspaper.
“Economically Germany has been a world leader for decades, and morally it has a claim to international leadership after welcoming so many refugees,” columnist Holger Schmale wrote.
“VW has now shown that Germany may be quite different also: nasty and dirty.”
Uwe Huck, head of the workers’ council at carmaker Porsche, was visibly furious when he appeared on ARD television. “I’m p***** off,” he repeated several times, using deliberately crude German.
“Now we have to clean this mess up.”
“The damage is not only to VW’s image in the US, but globally,” said Marcel Fratzscher, president of the German Institute for Economic Research.
“This means jobs at VW and many of its suppliers in Germany will be at risk.
”The huge fines VW could face in the US were “the least of our worries”,Mr Fratzscher said, warning that the scandal could do lasting damage to all German exports.
Sigmar Gabriel, the German vice-chancellor and economy minister, said: ”‘Made in Germany’ is a worldwide synonym for quality,” warning that the damage had to be repaired as quickly as possible.
“But I do not think that this is permanent and fundamental damage to German industry.”
Alexander Dobrindt, the German transport minister, said: “VW must now first win back the trust of customers with complete openness and transparency, as a signal it wants to repair the damage.”
The impact of the news went far beyond the business pages. Suddeutsche Zeitung newspaper ran a special online forum for readers.
“VW is not just anyone in Germany, but still plays a special role with deep roots in society, economy, politics and the state. Therefore, the VW catastrophe is a national matter,” said one reader.
“By ‘looking the other way’, the boardroom at VW have probably done the biggest damage to the German people,” wrote another reader calling himself German Backpack, warning of “years of dramatic declines in sales for all German car manufacturers in the US” and “a gigantic wave of lay-offs of workers worldwide”.
Axel Friedrich, a former senior official at the German federal environmental agency, was a rare dissenting voice.
“This is basically nothing new,” he told Spiegel magazine. “It’s just bad luck that VW was caught first. In Europe there are a number of similar cases, only we have no follow-up checks. We close our eyes and pretend everything is fine.”The