Some Volkswagen dealers are banking on the public’s short attention span.
They figure that an inattentive and apathetic public will be the German automaker’s key to recovery following the company’s diesel emissions-test cheating scandal.
These dealers believe if VW’s damage control is swift and aggressive, the public will quickly forget VW’s wrongdoings and its reputation will remain intact.
They are probably right. Here’s why:
At a recent doctor’s appointment, the nurse asked about my day. With dramatic flourish, I told her about the heavy coverage our team has been doing on the VW news.
“What’s going on with Volkswagen?” she asked.
You may say, well, Jamie, she’s a nurse. Why would she pay attention to automotive business news?
That’s precisely the point. How much does the average Joe or Jane really follow or care about this news? I suppose some do and some don’t.
The nurse said her husband had worked in the auto industry before changing professions a few years ago. He might have heard about the VW crisis, but they had not discussed it as a couple, she said.
I filled her in on the details, expecting shock and dismay. Instead, I was met with a ho-hum look. In my most dire voice, I emphasized the seriousness of it. I even used the phrase ‘company killing.’ She perked up a little bit, but she was ultimately more moved by my improved blood pressure levels.
Likewise, I’ve mentioned the scandal to neighbors and friends only to be met with the same ‘meh’ reaction. Let me point out that these are not ignorant people, nor are they callous polluters.
The severity of VW’s nefarious act is so far removed from most average folk’s psyches and lives that it fails to resonate. There is nothing tangible to attach to it. There are no dead bodies, no sex scandal, and the smoking gun happens to be a complex software device that most people don’t understand.
Lastly, look who VW lied to: the government. Is that such a bad thing in the minds of many people who dislike or distrust the government in the first place?
Now, there are plenty of people who are angry at being deceived. There are also those who are outraged at the damage those diesel engines’ emissions are doing to the environment as a result of VW’s cheating.
But considering the balance, VW stands a pretty good chance of saving its reputation if it’s smart and acts quickly. That means, some dealers say, doing something bold to show it is serious about rebuilding consumer trust.
One suggestion from a dealer: Offer a three-year, full-coverage maintenance plan on every new vehicle sold going forward.
That might illicit more than a ‘meh’ from the average Joe.