Dieselgate – A Car Crash In Slow Motion?

It’s been two years since VW became embroiled in a scandal over misleading results in its emissions testing. But the incident still hangs over the brand, according to the latest wave of our German car brand tracker.

Most corporate scandals only have a short-term impact on the brand, and it looked like the emissions impact on VW would follow a familiar pattern. We began measuring German car brands with our suite of brand, ad and market research platforms shortly before the scandal hit, and saw an immediate and severe reaction against VW. But then German consumers gave the iconic brand the benefit of the doubt, and it rallied on our key Fame-Feeling-Fluency measures.

Now, though, we’re seeing the indicators turning negative again, and this time Audi has been affected too.

What makes this scandal so different, and so long-lasting?

The fact is, the emissions scandal couldn’t have come at a worse moment for VW. German consumers have historically had immense pride in their car industry, but they also take great pride in their reputation as one of the greenest nations in Europe, and the world.

So the scandal strikes deep at Germany’s sense of itself. Whenever anti-pollution and anti-diesel measures are in the news – as they were this winter, with a wave of German cities talking about diesel emissions entirely – people are reminded of VW’s troubles.

Germany’s relationship with the car is entering a transition period, with the growing anti-diesel movement making Germans look to alternative technologies, like electric cars. But how ready is the country to make that shift?

In this wave, System1 looked deeper into that question using our brand monitoring tools. We found that while feeling about diesel power is dropping significantly, and people are keen on the new electric technology, there’s a significant barrier to uptake. Ultimately, a working infrastructure trumps all other concerns, and people don’t believe electric cars have one.

So the German car industry is in limbo. Diesel engines, and the brands that use them, have lost a large amount of trust. But the main alternative tech isn’t mature enough to step in. Even two years on, there is still an opportunity for existing car brands to regain public confidence, whether by innovation or reassurance. So far, though, the big brands haven’t worked out how to take that opportunity and gain a lasting advantage.

This wave of the report used our FFF (Fame-Feeling-Fluency) brand tracking system, which measures the key psychological levers of brand choice. To download a PDF of this report, go here. To learn more about our methods, get in touch.


At System1, we help the world’s largest advertisers make confident, creative decisions that lead to transformational business results. Our powerful ad testing platform (Test Your Ad) and our idea testing platform (Test Your Idea) help brands predict the commercial potential of ads and ideas. Complementing TYA and TYI is Test Your Brand, our brand tracking tool which measures the impact of ads and ideas on brand health, ensuring long-term brand growth through predictive success.

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