An Open Letter to Volkswagen Regarding My ‘Clean Diesel’


When your sales guy told me, two years ago, about the Beetle TDI — a car, he said, that “burns so clean, you could breathe from the exhaust pipe,” — I had serious doubts. But when he lead me to a wall graphic explaining the technology, I started to listen. My background is in advertising copywriting, and I knew there was no legal way VW could be making claims of up to 39 MPG, lower emissions and the wonderful things this car did for the planet in their brochures and posters if they weren’t true. That would be catastrophic for the company. So, in the market for the greenest car I could get, I forked over the extra cash for the diesel engine — understanding this was a car that would lead to clean air and would truly hold its value.


I have no reason to think that salesman didn’t genuinely believe what he was telling me. This is what he was fed in the TDI corporate literature and advertising, and it wasn’t his fault.  This “clean” messaging was everywhere — with a similar concept is seen in your “Diesels are Dirty: Old Wives Tale” commercial. During the test drive, he explained that 39 was the top official MPG rating, but if you let the car run a bit before driving, you can beat even these standards. My TDI has been consistently over 42 mpg (according to its onboard computer…). I thought I was doing a world of good: just as the advertising still active today on your Raleigh dealer’s site, would lead you to believe.

I felt really good about my TDI purchase. I offered to drive everywhere, believing my car was the “better-for-the-planet” option that my husband’s hybrid. I told everyone about my car. I spoke often of my new brand-loyalty to VW, and how I’d drive my TDI Beetle into the ground.

I had no idea.


My career currently revolves around the promotion of green building technologies. I just took time out of my recent vacation to clean up plastics from the beaches. Caring for the planet, cleaning it up, is something that is important to me — which is why I bought this car, and why I parted with the extra cash to “do good”. You don’t have to understand that, but you do have the responsibility for truth in advertising. Thank goodness, legally, you are not allowed to prey upon people who care — drastically devaluing both our now known-to-be-defunct cars and our efforts to clean up the air.

You’ve left us in a terrible situation now for nearly a year. I can’t buy a new car, because my funds are tied up in the TDI — which no one wants to buy. We hear of potential “fixes” coming our way: all hypothesized to reduce fuel economy and, at best, “get the car to pass emissions standards” — but certainly not be “blue” or “green”, as it was advertised.

None of us want to be dragged through a court process. I understand you’ve hired the same lawyers that defended BP during the Deepwater Horizon oil spill — yet another dark, hard fact to swallow. Really?

Anyways, I thought long and hard about this. Obviously, simply fixing the car to pass emissions standards doesn’t resolve our issue. The car’s not “clean” or “blue” or “green” or any of the things it was promised to be — it’s simply legal.

I’ve heard guesses that there may be a rebate program to buy another VW vehicle. This, to me, feels like being forced to stay in an abusive marriage. You cheated me, and I shouldn’t be required to stay loyal. There are absolutely no VW vehicles of interest to me, since you can’t provide the green car I was searching for, in the first place.

If you were to buy back the car for what I paid for it, we’re getting close. But there’s still a big issue left unaddressed in this scenario. I understand your deception has led to my polluting at up to 35 times past the legal rate, and your lack of consideration for the environment — also the trust and relationship with your consumer — is left undealt with in this scenario. Here we’re simply trying to pretend this never happened — but for two years it did.

It is clear we come from different tracks of thought. I value the world we live in over money. You’ve valued money over the world we live in. We’re not going to change each other’s thinking — no amount of data I could send your way would make your corporation really care about its impact on the environment. However, as we agree to disagree on priorities, one fact remains: you had no right to make a mockery of what we believe in. You have tricked us — hundreds of thousands of us — people who care deeply about the environment… into driving around emitting worse than all other consumer vehicles on the road. And you got us to pay extra for this. It makes me sick.

Original Photography

I’ve come up with a remedy that could start the healing of Volkswagen’s relationship with it’s customers and the world. If it’s done right.

  1. Buy back our cars for what we paid for them.
  2. Donate a substantial amount of money per vehicle towards Clean Air initiatives. Buy a substantial chunk of rainforest to replant. LEED certify all your buildings. Do something that will amaze us, and better the environment in a BIG way. Clean up your mess.

Anything less is just… less. I know I would never purchase a VW again with any less effort made to win me back, and I’m sure there are thousands right along with me. This is a travesty, and it needs to be made right.


A VERY Concerned TDI Customer

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