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Faith In Company Remains For Volkswagen Loyalists


Michael Horn, the head of Volkswagen America, offered an apology for the company cheating on emissions test. The deception has angered a lot of people. But in VW's hometown of Wolfsburg, Germany, NPR's John Ydstie found deep loyalty, along with some disappointment.

JOHN YDSTIE, BYLINE: It's not the easiest time to be a member of a VW enthusiasts club. But despite the scandal that's erupted over Volkswagen's emissions cheating, this club in Wolfsburg is carrying on, demonstrating for a visitor the charms and the distinctive sound of a 1961 VW Beetle.

Beautiful sound.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: (Laughter) It's original engine. It drives very, very fast and good. It's very quick.

YDSTIE: This young man has recently moved to Wolfsburg, the center of the VW universe. The company's headquarters is here, as well as a giant sprawling production plant. Together they employ 60,000 people. In the midst of this crisis, this young man, like virtually everyone we talked to, didn't want his name used for fear of alienating the company who he'd like to work for. The Wolfsburg Beetle Club's 140 members meet on the outskirts of town in a cozy pine-paneled dining room overlooking a small equestrian arena. Like most of the members, Michael, the club's president, owns a classic VW Beetle.

MICHAEL: For me, it's very important because it's a non-class car. You have millionaires, say, like, who have Beetles; you have poor guys; you have students. It's a worldwide popular car.

YDSTIE: Michael also digs the fact that vintage VW's are celebrated by clubs around the world.

MICHAEL: The club scene was founded in the states, in California, by some crazy guys in the 1960s. And then the Volkswagen fan club scene started worldwide.

YDSTIE: It is ironic that the classic Beetle has become so immensely popular around the world. After all, it was commissioned by Adolf Hitler. Somehow VW managed to overcome that ultimate PR disaster. Michael says it's a shame the emissions cheating scandal has given Volkswagen another black eye. He hands us off to a middle-aged woman with red hair.

Helga was born in Wolfsburg and has lived here all her life. Her grandfather worked for Volkswagen, so did her parents. And now her husband works for the company, too.

HELGA: My parents always have driven Volkswagen. I learned driving on a Volkswagen Golf. I ever had only Volkswagen, and there will be no other cars.

YDSTIE: Helga is wearing a T-shirt that says in German VW - trust in a global brand. The shirt was created recently by a VW employee.

HELGA: I'm trusting in Volkswagen because it's a very old company and all the people I know are working there.

YDSTIE: Helga is also clearly upset with the United States for igniting this scandal.

HELGA: I can't believe that our cars are damaging the air in the USA more than all the bad trucks with their big pollution.

YDSTIE: Michael thinks the global community of Volkswagen enthusiasts could help the company weather this storm. He says you can feel their commitment at the regular events that draw thousands of people in cars from around the world.

MICHAEL: You're sitting on a table in the evening drinking a beer and there's a guy from Russia, there's a guy from India, there's a guy from Brazil. And nobody understood - nobody knows the language of this guy - this person on the table. But everybody's talking together because of this language they are talking is Volkswagen.

YDSTIE: It will no doubt take more than Beetle lovers to turn things around for the damaged global car company, but a little bug love won't hurt. John Ydstie, NPR News, Wolfsburg, Germany. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.