You can’t have failed to have heard about the great VW fiasco with cars fitted with the larger diesel engine not being quite as green as was advertised. In fact, the cars could actually switch into a test mode to tick all the boxes in the workshop and revert to the default setting once away from the diagnostic equipment. The result was some very bad PR for VW, and with 11 million vehicles affected, a large financial headache.
The customers’ trust has been dented, and the VW America boss has admitted it ‘totally screwed up’ – but actually the manufacturer has cheated to boost sales of its vehicles and with a multi-billion dollar sum set aside to put the matter straight, it’s a real mess for VW.
Five years ago, Japanese giant Toyota was in a similar position in the US after it had failed to address known safety defects in its cars, which were linked to the death of dozens of people.
Toyota correctly responded with an extensive campaign to address the failings in its own organisation and rebuild consumer trust. As a result, its sales recovered following a short-term fall.
When things go wrong, honesty is the best policy – covering up or denying the facts will make the situation worse and a well handled strategy and controlling the messages in an attempt to put the matter right, as Toyota did, can build bridges. It’s a simple demonstration with VW that if you cheat, you will get caught – and in their case when they were given the opportunity to come clean, their team still couldn’t bring themselves to admit a switch had been fitted. When they eventually did, the damage had been done and the manufacturer missed the opportunity to respond to the crisis rapidly and it will cost them dearly.
Unfortunately for VW, there’s a strong chance the damage to their reputation may never be repaired. Have the communications support in place, tell the truth and control the information.