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Unethical Conduct and Leadership Failures: Volkswagen’s Engine Trouble

The video titled “Engine Trouble” explored the unethical conduct of Volkswagen (VW) that led to the introduction of cars that violated emission regulations in the US and the lie that enabled the defective cars to be sold to unknowing buyers. The video offers an excellent example of how vague ethics, a culture of winning by all means and poor leadership can lead companies to find themselves in trouble and lose trust among people. Volkswagen’s push to be the biggest carmaker led to it allowing engineers to intentionally cut corners to allow it to produce very low-cost diesel car engines that would compete with other companies in the US and other markets.

According to the video, Volkswagen had managed to rebrand and take up a huge market share in the early 2000s. The automaker that Toyota had overtaken took advantage of a technology that it claimed offered clean diesel emissions to beat its competitors. The company’s executives had known that such an ambitious plan would be very hard to achieve. However, they pushed the employees to meet targets or leave. The company expanded its production and sold thousands of cars after it advertised that it had found a cost-effective way of developing diesel engines that were low cost even though they offered clean diesel combustion. While clean diesel engines were possible at the time, they were very expensive to produce and maintain. They were also prone to wear and tear. Hence, most car use petrol. Therefore, Volkswagen claimed that it had found the technology even though it had not. The engineers used their computer boxes to control the levels of emission. The system put the system that managed emissions on when in laboratory tests and off when on the road (WLIW, 2018). It was only when the emissions were tested on the road that the regulators realized that the company had deceived them for long.

The company had used deception to get unfair competition. It had lied to customers, who were mostly environmentally sensitive people who preferred cars with less emissions, into buying Volkswagen cars. The unethical behavior allowed the car to sell products that had emissions up to 40 times the amounts that were allowed by US regulations. The decision led to the company facing negative publicity and the financial implications of its lie.

Ethical decision-making requires trained sensitivity and the use of methods that aim to examine whether decisions incorporate all the aspects of ethics. For instance, decisions should be transparent and truthful, avoid harm and use objective factors to guide decisions (Gostin et al., 2009). In the case of Volkswagen, the various aspects of the framework were not considered. The company allowed engineers and employees to achieve the goals of expansion with strict ethics.

Concerning truthfulness, the company failed to be sincere in its marketing and information to stakeholders. The company claimed that its engines allowed clean diesel combustion. However, the engineers knew that they would not achieve what they were advertising while also meeting the company’s financial goals. Therefore, they led stakeholders and also introduced a program within the cars that allowed them to cheat in the emission tests that US regulators performed. Being truthful from the beginning would have prevented the company from entering the US market and pushed the researchers to research more to build engines that met the required standards. The lack of transparency also heightened the lack of truthfulness. For instance, the company hid the fact that its engines did not meet American standards. Therefore, it allowed for the lie to continue until regulators knew. The environment is an important issue that all companies should consider. They should implement measures to prevent harm. However, the automaker allowed their harmful engines to be sold knowingly. If the company policy emphasized environmental protection, the scandals could not have happened.

In conclusion, corporations must always aim to protect consumers and the environment. Therefore, Volkswagen’s failure to ensure that their engines met environmental requirements led to the company releasing cars that did hurt the environment. The company culture that focused on productivity and its loose ethics led to the scandal. The executive’s failure to lead an ethical company further worsened the situation. Companies like Volkswagen need to implement protective measures for their clients. They should ensure transparency and truthfulness. They must also be responsible to avoid harm.


Gostin, L. O., Hanfling, D., Hanson, S. L., Stroud, C., & Altevogt, B. M. (Eds.). (2009). Guidance for establishing crisis standards of care for use in disaster situations: a letter report.

WLIW. (2018). Engine Trouble.


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