The Worst Automotive Scandals of the 2010-2020 Decade

Automotive scandals between 2010 and 2020 5 photos
Photo: collage edited by autoevolution
Carlos GhosnBlown airbagsFCA Jeep boothVW TDI engine
From East to West and from North to South, almost the entire automotive industry has been plagued by various Watergate-like scandals in the past 10 years. All of them happened completely unexpected and shook the entire world in one way or another.
Now that we're preparing to enter the 2020s, the teenage years of the 21st Century are almost over, and the decade that started on January 1st, 2010 will be coming to an end as one of the most outrageous 10 years in automotive history.

For the past decade we have seen the rise of the Internet of Things (IoT), global conflicts, natural disasters, superhero movies becoming the box office leaders, shared mobility and even massive electrification across the car industry.

While all of those are sometimes more than mildly related to the evolution of the automobile, several giant scandals also left their mark on the automotive world, and some of them are still doing it.

Dieselgate – Volkswagen's emissions scandal

VW TDI engine
Photo: Volkswagen
The public only found out about Volkswagen's wrongdoings in September 2015, when the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) said that the VW Group was issued a notice of violation of the Clean Air Act. In short, it was discovered that the carmaker had fitted so-called emission “defeat devices and software” on its cars so that regulators wouldn't see how Volkswagen was actually polluting up to 40 times more than the strict emission limits in certain driving scenarios.

Behind the scenes, the emissions scandal was actually ongoing since the late 20th century, when Volkswagen was preparing to bet a huge amount of money on its TDI sub-brand and attempt world domination on diesel passenger cars despite increasing pressure from emission regulations.

For the German carmaker to meet future upcoming increased emission regulations, its engineers had to resort to many expensive innovations that were fundamentally flawed in more than one way. Engineering head honchos then ultimately made the decision that going forward, cheating would be better for the company.

How wrong they were, though, because what the EPA started at the end of 2015 became a snowball that led to the demise of VW's CEO, billions of dollars in fines, tons of recalls and the worst public image Volkswagen has ever had. Dieselgate is also the main reason for VWs recent electric vehicle onslaught, which is seen by most as a way to seek clemency from all the people that got emphysema from its emission-cheating diesels over the years.

Takata Airbag Scandal

Blown airbags
Photo: Marcel Langthim/Pixabay
The scariest part of the Takata airbag scandal isn't necessarily its magnitude but the fact that it is still ongoing. Millions of drivers today are still facing the risk of death or being seriously maimed by the inopportune explosion of their vehicle's airbags.

In short, an unknown number of Takata airbags fitted to cars that range from Acura to Volkswagen and even McLaren or Tesla have a tendency to deploy inconsistently (not following a crash).

The only official causes seem to revolve around excessive humidity, which can apparently destabilize the volatile propellant inside airbag inflators, but there were incidents where the airbag's deployment sent actual shrapnel into the face of the unfortunate individual behind the wheel. Not exactly a pretty way to go.

Officially, the largest product recall in U.S. history and arguably the world started in 2013, when over 3.6 million cars from various brands, fitted with defective and potentially dangerous Takata airbags, were called back for immediate airbag replacement. That said, cars that feature faulty Takata airbags have been built as early as 1996, so almost not a single mainstream carmaker is exempt.

To put things into perspective, Takata used to supply approximately 20 percent of the world's airbags, so there are millions of cars out there that could still pose danger despite recalls that total over 50 million vehicles up to this point in time.

Nissan's Carlos Ghosn Arrest

Carlos Ghosn
Photo: Renault
One of the car industries most talked-about CEOs and the man who almost single-handedly turned around Nissan and then Renault, Carlos Ghosn was arrested in 2018 by Japanese prosecutors. What followed will probably make a pretty good book in a few years, but keep in mind that the litigation against him is still ongoing.

Following the initial arrest, Ghosn was accused of false accounting while subsequent arrests saw the rise of new charges from both Japanese prosecutors and Nissan's own executives. Most of them revolved around the idea that the rock-star CEO had used company funds for personal investments and had misused various corporate assets, including using Nissan's money to pay for family vacations or mansion renovations.

The discredited former CEO was dragged in and out of Japanese jail four times in the following year, at one point being confined on house arrest with no access to his wife or family.

Known as a strict cost-cutter that can return just about any carmaker to profitability after his experience with Nissan, Renault and then Mitsubishi, all the charges against Ghosn probably reached a ten on the surprise scale for most people.

Even more weirdly, Ghosn himself has maintained his innocence and accuses a giant conspiracy to oust and a shame him from Nissan. Time will tell who holds the truth.

GM versus FCA Corporate War and Racketeering Lawsuit
FCA Jeep booth
Photo: FCA
In a weird and unexpected turn of events, General Motors launched a RICO (Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act) lawsuit against Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (FCA) in November 2019.
The 95 pages of the GM v. FCA lawsuit alleges a bunch of specific ways in which Fiat-Chrysler won several secret labor concessions from the UAW that General Motors was refused. More than a decade's worth of conspiracies and corruption apparently won FCA billions of dollars.
Oddly enough, GM is not suing the workers or the UAW, despite being obviously involved in the alleged racketeering and corruption that took place. Apparently, one of the main culprits behind the shenanigans is Sergio Marchionne, who passed away in 2018, and the lawsuit is mainly directed at FCA officials.
The racketeering and corruption litigation came at a rather delicate time for FCA, which had just announced a planned multi-billion USD merger with the French from PSA that would create the world's fourth-largest carmaker.
While the legal proceedings will probably take years, FCA said that it will defend itself vigorously and is pretty unfazed about the upcoming legal ordeal. On the other hand, if GM is successful it could spell a lot of bad things for both FCA and PSA, who will soon be linked in a 50-50 share merger.
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About the author: Alex Oagana
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Alex handled his first real steering wheel at the age of five (on a field) and started practicing "Scandinavian Flicks" at 14 (on non-public gravel roads). Following his time at the University of Journalism, he landed his first real job at the local franchise of Top Gear magazine a few years before Mircea (Panait). Not long after, Alex entered the New Media realm with the project.
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