By Angela Catterns  

My very first car was a VW beetle. I bought it with money I’d saved up from my very first job. It cost $200. 

I loved that car. The body was in pretty good nick but the fabric on the inside roof was coming away so I ripped it all out and re-covered it with a piece of tie-dyed calico. My ride was pimped in a hippie kind of way. It took me from Sydney to the far north coast and back several times, until it was eventually retired after the battery - located under the back seat - caught on fire.

I’ve felt a certain fondness for VW ever since.

But this week Volkswagen, the biggest car company in the world, has driven into serious trouble. It has admitted to a great big lie.

The US Environmental Protection Agency found it knowingly fiddled with the software that allows a car to identify when it’s hooked up to an emissions testing device. 

It’s been described as the ‘artificial gaming of emissions tests’. Gaming? I immediately picture some young dude sitting at a console in his baggy pants engrossed in Grand Theft Auto. And what’s frightening about this picture is that it’s probably spot on. The question is, who told him to do it?

“Not I” said the company’s chief executive, Martin Winterkorn, who stepped down from his post on Wednesday and in the process, became eligible for a pension worth an eye-watering €28.6 million. 

According to automotive expert John Cadogan, from the website www.autoexpert.com.au, this audacious fraud is the result of VW obsessively pursuing its number one position by cutting corners in research and development (R&D). He suggests the real culprit is probably someone high up in the VW R&D department.

The repercussions are far-reaching. Volkswagen’s stock price has plummeted by a third, it faces fines in the US of $18 billion, lawsuits are about to begin and there’s massive damage to this great, 78-year-old brand. The contribution to pollution levels is yet to be measured in Europe, where about one third of all cars run on diesel. 

John Cadogan predicts there’ll be a frenzy of testing of different car makes around the world and several more top executives will either resign or get the sack. 

It’ll be interesting to see if, and how, Volkswagen survives. The much-loved brand may have been wrecked forever. Will consumers who paid several thousand dollars extra for the ‘greener’ option of clean diesel demand a refund? Will they ever feel inclined to buy another car made by Volkswagen?

What of the long-held belief that the best cars are the result of superior German engineering? Will that prove to be nothing more than marketing hype?  

And what will be the effect on Wolfsburg, the German town where half the 120,000 residents work for Volkswagen? According to a local union leader, the employees are worried and angry.

11 million vehicles worldwide are affected by this scandal. Including the Audi I bought a couple of years ago. Volkswagen makes Audi and Skoda cars too and their two-litre diesel engines are all the same. One of the reasons I bought my Audi two-litre diesel was because I believed it produced really low emissions and was extremely fuel efficient. It’s taken me from Sydney to Melbourne on one tank of diesel fuel, but now I’m not so sure about how environmentally friendly it is. Mine probably won’t be recalled because Australia has lower emissions standards than the US and Europe. 

Volkswagen owners around the world are feeling betrayed and ripped off. Their confidence in the claims of the company has been completely undermined. A New York friend told me she overheard someone in the elevator saying “I feel like my VW cheated on me”.