Volkswagen: From Star Pupil to Con-Artist

A board displays the chart of Germany's share index DAX at the stock exchange in Frankfurt am Main, western Germany, on Septe
A board displays the chart of Germany's share index DAX at the stock exchange in Frankfurt am Main, western Germany, on September 22, 2015. Share prices on the Frankfurt stock exchange fell more than 3.0 percent in midday trading on September 22, 2015, pushed down by index heavyweight Volkswagen, as it ploughed ever deeper into a pollution cheating scandal. AFP PHOTO / DANIEL ROLAND (Photo credit should read DANIEL ROLAND/AFP/Getty Images)

 

MUNICH -- Only days ago Volkswagen was the envy of the auto industry. In July, the German company surpassed Toyota to become the world's largest automaker. And just last week they adorned the International Trade Fair for Mobility (IAA) in Frankfurt with glossy new models.

That's all forgotten. Now the media is inundated with talk of VW's dirty diesel engines. Manipulation. Fraud. And worse still, the German government may have been aware of such fraudulent practices.

What we are witnessing is nothing less than one of the biggest economic scandals in German history.

This affair has not only caused Germany's greatest industry to falter -- it has also tarnished the image of our economy. Reliability, credibility -- once the core attributes of our automotive industry -- seem implausible in the backdrop of this scandal. As implausible as CEO Martin Winterkorn clinging to his title.

Rightly, the whole world scoffs at this former powerhouse automaker with the hashtag #dieselgate: From flagship company to con-artist -- such deceit and downfall are normally reserved to the banking industry.

Stunned, we examine the facts, which come to light in snippets. Eleven million vehicles were tampered with, which means an intentional system must have been installed to execute fraud on such a massive scale.

However, the shock of this diesel affair in the auto-industry only reinforces a trend that has slowly been gaining momentum. In a few years, we will look back and see that the German automotive industry has, just now, passed its zenith.

People in Western markets are buying fewer cars. Many emerging countries are in financial straits. And, the car is increasingly losing its value as a status symbol.

At the same time, companies like Apple and Google are entering the market. In fact, just yesterday Apple revealed their intentions to enter the market sooner than expected.

The champions of electric and hybrid motors are already companies based in Asia; companies such as Chinese manufacturer BYD, or Toyota in Japan.

Of course, the traditional producers and distributors laugh and quip about the emerging competition from Tesla, Apple and Google. Perhaps Nokia's managers laughed at Apple's first iPhone; today they are no longer relevant.

Apple has already shown that they have the ability to turn an entire industry upside-down. There is a high probability that they'll do it again.

Maybe, in a few years time, we'll look back and realize that the current VW scandal has not simply rattled the German automotive industry, but accelerated its decline.

This post first appeared on HuffPost Germany and was translated into English.