LAS VEGAS -- It took all of one minute into Volkswagen CEO Herbert Diess’ keynote at the 2016 Consumers Electronics Show for him to apologize to the American people for the automaker’s deceptive actions that led to millions of German diesel vehicles logging false emissions results.
Speaking to a legion of techies, Diess dedicated the rest of his 50 minute talk highlighting the company’s efforts with electric vehicles, hoisting Volkswagen’s work there as a sign that the German automaker is committed to a clean future and making efforts to avoid repeating its past failures.
“We disappointed our customers and the American people, for which I am truly sorry and for which I apologize,” Diess said. “We at Volkswagen are disappointed that this could happen within the company we love. I assure you we are doing everything we can to make things right.”
The keynote marks Diess’ first trip to the U.S. since Dieselgate, as the incident has come to be known. Volkswagen in September admitted to having outfitted 11 million diesel vehicles with software designed to produce deceptive results on emissions test. The incident forced former CEO Martin Winterkorn to resign and led to the suspension of nine employees. The automaker is also facing scrutiny from governments across the globe and could face penalties to the tune of tens of billions of dollars.
But solving this problem will take more than a trip to the U.S. and a four minute apology.
On the eve of Diess’ CES keynote, the U.S. Justice Department slapped Volkswagen with a civil suit filed Monday in Detroit. The lawsuit alleges that the German automaker installed illegal devices that impaired emission controls in as many as 600,000 diesel vehicles.
“The United States will pursue all appropriate remedies against Volkswagen to redress the violations of our nation’s clean air laws alleged in the complaint,” John C. Cruden, assistant attorney general for the Justice Department’s Environment and Natural Resources Division, said in a statement.
Diess on Tuesday assured the Justice Department, the Environmental Protection Agency and others that Volkswagen is close to finding a remedy for the hundreds of thousands of American vehicles that were affected by the test-circumventing devices.
“We are preparing a comprehensive plan on how to bring about 500,000 affected vehicles here in the U.S. into compliance with emission regulations,” Diess said. “We are committed to making things right.”
All Focus On Electric
Looking to shift the attention of the talk, Diess turned his focus toward the company’s future, showcasing the e-Golf Touch and the Budd-e, two of the company’s electric vehicles.
The e-Golf Touch is touted as “nothing less than a smartphone on wheels.” The electric compact features a high-definition 9.2-inch infotainment display that responds to motion gestures. The e-Golf Touch also comes equipped with wireless charging for its passengers and includes an updated voice control system by Volkswagen.
Far more exciting was the Budd-e, an electric concept van billed by Volkswagen as the future version of the Type 2, the carmakers’ flat-faced van made famous by hippies throughout California.
Though lacking in 60s groove or mojo, the sleek designed Budd-e drew excitement from the audience and included a number of tantalizing features, such as handle-less doors that open in response to voice commands and a light-up grill with ever-changing color patterns.
Diess and the German automaker are looking to the future and hoping to quickly forget about the past. For a few minutes in the desert, he managed to distract a herd of nerds, but once the talk ended, it felt as though not much had changed
“He failed to make a statement,” uttered one German conference-goer to his fellow attendees as soon as the talk was over.