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A few days ago, I had published a post about going back to the basics in crisis communications. There was nothing deep or new about it. I had to share with all of you some basic rules that we should never forget when a crisis occurs. Well, a crisis occurred for VW and now we are witnessing a storm hitting one of the most respectable and innovative corporations worldwide.

Well, this is the story:

The Environmental Protection Agency (E.P.A.) accused VW of using software to detect when the car is undergoing its periodic state emissions testing. This detector would turn on only during tests in the cars’ full emissions control systems. During normal driving situations, the controls are turned off, allowing the cars to spew as much as 40 times as much pollution as allowed under the Clean Air Act, the E.P.A.. The software was designed to conceal the cars’ emission of the pollutant nitrogen oxide, which contributes to the creation of ozone and smog. The Obama administration on Friday 18 September directed Volkswagen to recall nearly a half-million cars, saying the automaker illegally installed software in its diesel-power cars to evade standards for reducing smog. (Source: New York Times)

The software used to manipulate emissions tests in the United States, and the extensive attempts by Volkswagen to deflect official scrutiny before admitting misconduct this month, suggest that the cheating was not just the work of a few rogue engineers. (Source: New York Times)

It’s obvious that VW deceived its customers and the US national authorities and violated a series of laws. When the public finds out about the trickeries, the consequences in the era of social media might be irreversible. VW had not expressed, at least until yesterday, its apology for such an outrageous practice in social media despite the negative comments in Facebook and Twitter. The head of the German automaker made a statement a few days after the outbreak of the issue expressed his apology but he was not completely sincere. Although VW has evidently made a mistake, Prof. Dr. Martin Winterkorn, CEO of Volkswagen AG said: «We do not and will not tolerate violations of any kind of our internal rules or of the law».

This statement means that either they lie or they are totally ignorant about their business outside Germany. I wonder how such an organization of VW’s magnitude said something like that. Either it is an organized deception or ignorance, VW should apologize to the public in a more sincere way using all communications channels including traditional media and social networks.

VW lost its credibility not only in the US but worldwide inflicting a heavy blow on the reputation of the brand. Does anyone still believe that the basics of crisis communications have lost their importance? It’s the basics, stupid!

The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author, and they do not reflect in any way those of his various affiliations.