Big Auto = Big Tobacco, or is it Big Oil?


Seems car makers are the next Big Tobacco. Or is it Big Oil. Hard to decide with so many terrible examples to draw on.

In recent days, we have seen several car makers follow in the infamous footsteps of Volkswagen.

‘Tis a shame, but is it such a shocker? Some basic economics suggest we shouldn’t be so surprised.


First, we put up with cheaters. And if we have learned anything about big industries, we know they prefer inertia over change, and are quite capable of doing some nasty things to conserve the status quo.

Big Tobacco first hid, then “rope d’ doped” evidence that tobacco causes cancer. They only came clean when government found it profitable to sue them over health care.

Exxon buried climate change evidence and covertly funded war on it for decades, until solar and wind became obvious game changers. All of a sudden, they are green guys? Come on.

Let’s not forget the occult accounting of Enron and WorldCom, and the decades of tax dodging scum that surfaced on Panama Papers Pond.

Most recently, Volkswagen entered stage right with jimmy-rigged emissions tests. They were soon to be joined by Mitsubishi’s fuel standard lies. And now, alas, Chrysler-Fiat and Renault as guilty as their fellow German emission cheats.

This is tip-of-the-iceberg stuff. For every company that gets caught, thousands of more don’t

It’s becoming so common place it’s hard to get a moral rage on, as we should. They pour deadly emissions into our air, cheat government of taxes while schools fall apart, or use bait and switch sales lies. It can be depressing.

We can’t blame the companies entirely. We keep buying their products and their lies. Only until we say, BASTA, and we only buy Ford or Volvos, will they get that sustainability counts in the marketplace.

My wife and I drove from Canada to Mexico in a VW Vanagon. It was going to be part of our family lore, now it’s just a stain on my consumer conscious. I will make sure my kids will never ever buy a Volkswagen now, and I know I sure won’t.

Being Cheap
We also want our things cheap. This can cause companies to cheat. In Japan, where apologies seem to count for something, Mitsubishi came clean, saying it the lied about fuel efficiency because they hit the engineering wall. They simply could not make a competitive super high efficiency car. To lie, they said, was the only way to stay competitive. Not an excuse, but entirely understandable.

Rethinking Market Based Sustainably Solutions
Companies will cheat, even those with relatively decent sustainability reputations, if we let them that is. Is it enough to let market forces have them improve their sustainably performance?

Once loss of brand as venerable and respected as Volkswagen has surely shaken faith in corporate responsibility. That Chrysler-Fiat, and Renault seem poised to follow gives me pause to rethink GRI, rethink sustainable and responsible investment, or any other market based approach to change.

All I know for certain is that our planetary eco system will ultimately reject the high price of corporate malfeasances and cheap products. And I am not sure we can just shop our way out of this one.



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