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.