The recent consumer fury around Volkswagen and their 'defeat devices' used to alter vehicle emissions under stringent test conditions can be seen as a justified outrage at a breach of consumer trust but also a media-driven amplification of public outrage over a technical issue – which in the grand scheme of things matters less than the breach in trust and the technological deceit at the heart of the issue itself.

On the one hand, if your key motivation for buying a 'Green' vehicle is to get as clean an option as possible, there are other worthier hybrid or electric models on the market and the emissions statistic falls way down the list of queries and factors on the decision-making exercise of a vehicle path to purchase. Overall cost, running costs, miles per gallon and number of cup holders likely feature ahead of emissions (OK, cup holders may be a flipant point but, you know...)

As indicated, the issue is not the 'issue' itself per se  it is the breakdown in trust and communication. It is the outright lies from a brand that sat on a trustworthy brand pedestal for so long; with a reputation for being decent, honest and true. That is the crux of this issue and ultimately what should have informed the strategic response from VW. It is the trust factor which has shaped the response from other car manufacturers and exemplifies communication as a critical relationship sustaining piece of the customer experience jigsaw. Below is a recent email from Ford that I received as an owner of a Ford vehicle.


The tone of voice is spot on  this is no time to crow over a competitor's misfortune  the issue is addressed head on by a senior employee to add authority and build trust into this tactical communication piece. Sure, there are elements of technical jargon as we get dealt a hand of product marketing speak and technology which implies that Ford technology is better or at least different to that of the manipulative technology of Volkswagen. 

The email extends the brand to consumer communication that in previous years you may not have had with a vendor of vehicles beyond the annual service reminder or a must-have deal on a new vehicle after 5 years. It performs a function through language, tone and positioning of having originated from a source of authority that will reinforce the positive brand experience and set apart from a competitor brand that has so far struggled to grasp the impact that their engineered mistrust will create long-term.