The same Volkswagen company that Chattanoogans can credit for helping turn a 7,000-acre brownfield into the world's greenest auto plant and one of the globe's most environmentally friendly factories is now apologizing for deliberately cheating American pollution regulations.
It's hard to wrap our heads around such diametrically opposed actions.
* Volkswagen's reputation erodes as diesel emissions scandal widens * Cooper: VW brand on the line * VW unveils new Passat design for 2016 * VW rocked by emissions scandal as prosecutors come calling * For 7 years, VW software thwarted pollution regulations * VW scandal has TN officials fuming after giving millions in incentives * Volkswagen tells dealers to stop selling 2015 diesel cars * Cooper: VW's alleged emissions 'defeat device' disheartening* VW could be fined $18 billion for cheating on emission rules* VW stock crashes after admitting it rigged U.S. emission tests* EPA: VW intentionally violates clean air standards
Four years ago, VW's $1 billion auto assembly plant here gained LEED Platinum status - the highest Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design rating. Shortly afterward, the automaker heated up its green image with a 33-acre solar park, the largest at any U.S. auto plant and the biggest array in Tennessee. The factory was built to avoid wasting any energy, and its energy savings were estimated to be about 42 percent better than a standard U.S. building.
Announcing the LEED award, Frank Fischer, then VW's chief executive of operations here, referenced Chattanooga's turnaround from dirtiest air city and said, "We're glad to add to that legacy of sustainability."
Now we learn the so-called "clean diesel" VW marketed - including its diesel Passats made here - were only clean once a year when they were plugged into emissions testing machines. The rest of the time, a software "defeat device" turned off the vehicles emissions controls to allow those diesels to be peppy. And to allow them to pump up to 40 times the allowable tailpipe pollution into our air.
And when the solar plant was completed, Fischer called it a "Think Blue" plant, referencing VW's "Think Blue" strategy about environmental sustainability. Please, spare us!
VW denied its deception involving nearly a half million Golfs, Jettas, Beetles, Passats and Audi A3s to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for more than a year.
Clearly the highly technical software and the continued denial show that this was no lowly worker or engineer mistake. This was an intentional corporate workaround to deceive regulators and consumers.
VW chief executive Martin Winterkorn apologized over the weekend, but that is far from enough. Heads should roll and jail time should not be off the table. The deception amounts to fraud.
And it is particularly distressing here in Chattanooga, where some 2,400 people already work and another 2,000 are expected to work when the SUV expansion comes online - plus another 1,000 jobs expected from suppliers.
Now VW faces up to $18 billion in civil penalties and $26 million in recall costs. Sales of 2015 and 2016 diesel cars with that technology will be halted. The company's stock has plummeted 20 percent since news of the deception broke.
Tennessee gave Volkswagen $168 million to build its second car line at our Enterprise South Industrial Park in Bonny Oaks, while Chattanooga and Hamilton County tossed in another $52.2 million - all over and above the usual and original tax incentives that go with competitively enticing new industries and jobs.
This puts us squarely between a rock and a hard place with VW. Or, as the country song goes: "Some days, you're the windshield. Some days you're the bug."
We're angry and feeling cheated. But with these jobs on the line, we'd better hope that both we and Volkswagen are the windshield.