After months of corresponding by email and phone, I was finally able to meet Marcus and Elisabeth in New York City as they completed their cross-country trip to Volkswagen of America’s headquarters in Herndon, Virginia. We were joined by Rob Kornblum of NYPIRG in front of a local VW dealership in Manhattan.
After driving 1,671 miles from Colorado over the course of 12 days, the big day arrived — Marcus and Elisabeth made it to headquarters on Tuesday at 2 PM. I joined them to return their 2011 Jetta SportWagen TDI and deliver over 20,000 of our petitions to Volkswagen.
Our press corps made up of seven local, national, and international media outlets were not allowed at headquarters, so they waited for us outside in the 20 degree/16 mph winds while we met with a pair of VW of America representatives, including the senior manager of corporate communications. We met in the doorway; we were not invited into the lobby to sit even though we let them know we were coming ahead of time and had requested a meeting.
The reps told us VW is working on a solution to the emission scandal and highlighted their “goodwill package” of $1,000 in gift cards. Considering that insufficient, Marcus and Elisabeth asked VW to store their car in the parking lot until a solution could be worked out. They also asked VW to put forth a vision for a more sustainable company that would increase production of actual clean cars like electric vehicles. VW accepted our petitions, which includes a call for buy-backs, but refused to accept their car. Despite strong discouragement from the reps, Marcus and Elisabeth left their key on the doormat and car in the lot and walked out –- this might have been the world’s first ever key drop
On Wednesday, we had a day packed with meetings – in the morning, we met with Drew Kodjak, an NJPIRG alum and Executive Director of the International Council on Clean Transportation (ICCT) – this is the organization that originally discovered excess emissions in VW diesel cars when it contracted with West Virginia University to conduct real world testing for a report. Ironically, this report was originally started to promote “clean diesel” cars on the American market as a solution to Europe’s elevated levels of NOx emissions.
In the afternoon, we met with staff from Senators Blumenthal of Connecticut and Markey of Massachusetts, the most outspoken Congressional leaders calling on VW to fully compensate consumers and the environment. We also met with Colorado Senator Bennet’s office.
Instead of receiving responses to our petition or Marcus and Elisabeth’s request for a vision, VW emailed asking when Marcus and Elisabeth would be taking back their car. In order to avoid risks to the car, we returned two days later to drive it out of the parking lot. We were told our petitions were given to the legal department and that we would receive a response, although they wouldn’t say by when. As of this writing, we still haven’t received a response. Sign our petition here, calling on VW to respond to our petition. Marcus and Elisabeth drove their car to a friend’s house in DC where it will be parked while next steps are figured out. They took a bus to New York and are taking an Amtrak back to Colorado.
How did this all start?
Marcus first reached out to me back in September after reading about our “Make VW Pay” campaign in the New York Times. He and his wife, Elisabeth, felt duped by Volkswagen and wanted their 2011 Jetta Sportwagen TDI off their hands until the company could replace it with something cleaner and demonstrate a vision for increasing production of actual clean cars, such as electric vehicles.
With our support, they returned their car to their local dealership in Boulder, Colorado with CoPIRG’s Danny Katz. The local dealership allowed them to store it there for a month but cited liability concerns and asked them to remove it. Marcus and Elisabeth saw that local dealerships were another victim of the scandal and decided that it was best to talk to corporate headquarters directly. That’s how we ended up partnering together on a cross-country trip to headquarters, making stops along the way, to return their car and deliver our petitions.
Marcus and Elisabeth were interviewed in all five cities along the way — Denver, Austin, Chicago, Detroit, and NYC — increasing pressure on VW to compensate the consumers it deceived and our air it polluted, sooner than later. Media outlets across the nation, such as the Chicago Tribune, USA Today, and car enthusiasts Jalopnik, have profiled our campaign as a result of Marcus and Elisabeth’s trip.
Also, I would be remiss not to address a sort of elephant in the room: Aren’t Marcus and Elisabeth contributing to a lot of emissions through their drive? Marcus and Elisabeth replaced their Jetta with an electric vehicle in October, soon after news of the emission scandal broke. Other than for our events, they have not driven the Jetta. So in terms of actual output, this trip is more or less emitting what they would have had they kept driving it the last four months. The main point is that after four months, nearly 600,000 vehicles are still on the road, emitting up to 40 times the legal limit of smog causing pollutants because Volkswagen still has not produced a sufficient recall plan or offered to buy back the cars and scrap them. Marcus and Elisabeth’s trip and the 20,000 plus petitions they delivered are about applying public pressure on Volkswagen to fully compensate customers and the environment – Americans from California to Texas and Illinois to Maine believe VW should have committed to doing so already.
Sign our petition here, calling on VW to respond to our petition, particularly on buy-backs.
You can follow our campaign at www.MakeVWPay.org. You can also follow Marcus & Elisabeth on their blog at www.whatnextvw.org.
Director, Consumer Campaign, PIRG
Mike directs U.S. PIRG’s national campaign to protect consumers on Wall Street and in the financial marketplace by defending the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, and works for stronger privacy protections and corporate accountability in the wake of the Equifax data breach. Mike lives in Washington, D.C.