What next for the company and its hometown Wolfsburg?

The city of Wolfsburg in Lower Saxony is not merely the hometown of Volkswagen. Wolfsburg is Volkswagen, Germany’s answer to Detroit – but rather more prosperous.

It was founded in the 1930s as a place to house workers building the KdF-Wagen – the car which became the VW Beetle after the Second World War.

Even today, more than half of the town’s 120,000 inhabitants work at the local VW plant, a sprawling complex that covers some 6.5 sq km. Many of the rest provide the services which those employees need, such as shops and restaurants.

It goes without saying that the VW logo is more than a little prominent here. It is the first thing you see when you arrive at the central station, looming over the platforms from the building opposite. It’s on offices, car dealerships and pretty much every vehicle on the roads here.

So a crisis at Volkswagen is a crisis for Wolfsburg.

It threatens the entire social and economic fabric of this town. People here are reluctant to speak about the scandal in the United States, wary of showing disloyalty. But it is clear the events of the past week have taken a heavy toll.

“The people and the employees of Wolfsburg are extremely outraged about what has happened,” says Hartwig Eng, a director of the trade union IG Metall.

“They’ve been working for Volkswagen for three or four generations and that’s why they’re so angry, and justifiably so.”

Volkswagen The scandal explained

What is Volkswagen accused of?

It’s been dubbed the “diesel dupe”. The German car giant has admitted cheating emissions tests in the US. According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), some cars being sold in America had devices in diesel engines that could detect when they were being tested, changing the performance accordingly to improve results.

VW has had a major push to sell diesel cars in the US, backed by a huge marketing campaign trumpeting its cars’ low emissions. The EPA’s findings cover 482,000 cars in the US only, including the VW-manufactured Audi A3, and the VW brands Jetta, Beetle, Golf and Passat. But VW has admitted that about 11 million cars worldwide are fitted with the so-called “defeat device”.


The device sounds like a sophisticated piece of kit

Full details of how it worked are sketchy, although the EPA has said that the engines had computer software that could sense test scenarios by monitoring speed, engine operation, air pressure and even the position of the steering wheel.

When the cars were operating under controlled laboratory conditions – which typically involved putting them on a stationary test rig – the device appears to have put the vehicle into a sort of safety mode in which the engine ran below normal power and performance. Once on the road, the engines switched from this test mode.

The result? The engines emitted nitrogen oxide pollutants up to 40 times above what is allowed in the US.

Dump media ownership restrictions to save those suffering with TV blackspots Liberal MP says

The Government should dump media ownership restrictions in order to fix TV blackspots across the country, a Federal Liberal MP says.

Successive governments spent almost $1 billion switching televisions from analog to digital, but the Federal member for Hume, Angus Taylor, says many regional people have been left worse off.

“There are tens of thousands and perhaps more Australians across regional areas who are suffering from poor TV coverage, and I think it’s time for the Government to fix it,” he told ABC Rural.

He has managed to secure funding for a new tower in Crookwell in regional NSW, where locals say reception is hopeless.

“If you’re watching something like the Antique Roads Show and the fella’s explaining some technical thing about something, the sound goes and it’s very annoying,” local resident Bryan Kennedy explained.

Ron Cummins has lobbied for a new tower for the past three years. He said the offer of government subsidies during the digital switchover did not help.

“If you weren’t on a full-time pension, then you had to pay for the installation of the VAST system. And that could work up to $650 to $900 for the black box and satellite dish,” he said.

“And we didn’t think that was quite right given the Government had switched off the service and we had to pay to get free-to-air TV.”

Mr Kennedy said the satellite option was confusing for elderly people and that it did not provide local content.

“All the ads are now Alice Springs or somewhere like that,” he said.

Regional communities plagued by poor reception

Mr Taylor is concerned that other regional communities will continue to be plagued by poor reception.

He hopes the Turnbull Government will find his proposal attractive because it solves two problems: TV blackspots and the campaign by regional TV networks to lift 1980s media ownership restrictions.

Those laws prevent TV networks from owning newspapers and radio stations as well. They also permit metro stations and overseas companies such as Google and Netflix to stream into regional areas, while country networks cannot.

  Photo: Bryan Kennedy and Ron Cummins are sick of “hopeless reception”. (ABC News: Lucy Barbour)

Mr Taylor said deregulation would allow the Government to hold regional networks to account.

“If they’re healthy and if they’re not being hurt by bad regulation, outdated regulation, then it’s very reasonable for them to make commitments,” he said.

Regional players like Prime, Southern Cross and WIN have lobbied hard for the laws to be scrapped. They argue the laws are forcing them to close local newsrooms.

“New entrants into our market are left to operate unlicensed, unrestricted and unregulated,” Prime chief executive Ian Audsley said.

“And what that does is that leaves us like the dog chained to the post. All we can do is sit back and watch our house be burgled.”

He said his company was “sympathetic” to Mr Taylor’s proposal.

“All things are possible if there’s regulatory reform,” Mr Audsley said.

But some media moguls like Kerry Stokes are sceptical and have argued against change.

In his former job, Malcolm Turnbull was sympathetic to media reform but it is still unclear whether he will implement change.

In Crookwell, Mr Cummins is tuned in and hoping the new Prime Minister will act.

“For a small community to go through four years of waiting in this day and age — I think that’s just too long,” he said.

“And if the PM took it on himself, surely other small towns could get a service a lot quicker than what we’ve gone through.”

South Australian Government shifts focus to rail not roads following toppling of Tony Abbott

The South Australian Government’s lobbying efforts for federal transport funding have switched focus onto tram and rail projects, and away from roads, following the departure of Tony Abbott from the prime ministership.

Acting Premier John Rau said the State Government would make new submissions to Infrastructure Australia to significantly expand Adelaide’s tram network and complete the electrification of the Gawler railway line.

“Mr Abbott as prime minister wasn’t very interested in rail,” he said.

“The fact that we now appear to have a different attitude in Canberra is very welcome and that means we shift our emphasis now from road projects that we’ve got sitting there, over to rail projects.”

Mr Rau said he had been encouraged by comments from Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and recently appointed Minister for Cities and the Built Environment, Jamie Briggs.

The tram network expansion plan was unveiled in 2013 and would see new lines branching out to destinations including Semaphore, Blair Athol, Mitcham, Magill and the airport.

But Mr Rau said he was happy to consider alternatives.

“If the Commonwealth’s happy to talk about going up O’Connell Street, so are we,” he said.

The full electrification of the Gawler rail line was announced in 2008 but later delayed for budgetary reasons.

“We’re talking in the hundreds of millions of dollars. It’s a significant investment,” Mr Rau said.

“We have to sit down with [the Federal Government] and find out what they’ve got in terms of their budget.”