In 2015, Volkswagen (VW), the German carmaker, had to admit that the emission tests had been cheated in the USA, as the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) discovered many VW vehicles sold in America equipped with a “defeat device" - or software - in diesel engines. This equipment was able to detect when the car was being tested, changing the outcome accordingly to deliver acceptable results under the regulation of emissions (Hotten 2015). The scandal reached Europe, too, and VW had to make up for the inconvenience recalling millions of cars worldwide to fix the device. The words spread on the markets too, causing a fall in sales, and a consequent quarterly loss reported in October 2015 (Cremer 2015), and a collapse in stock market price as well. Surprisingly, or maybe not, the following year, VW became the first world carmaker, in terms of sales (Topham, 2017). This unpredictable result was relevant in terms of communication as the company had initially to apologize and make up for the misconduct; but after the 2016 sales performance, Mathias Müller, VW’s CEO, was able to address communicative strategies, supported by the positive response of the market. This study explores the strategies used by the company to restore trust and manage the crisis. To this aim, the letters to shareholders, included in the 2015 and 2016 VW Annual Reports written by the Mathias Müller, were analyzed. The documents have been investigated both at a discursive level and at a cultural level. On the one hand, in fact, the linguistic devices, the communicative strategies and the tools adopted, have been identified. On the other hand, the analysis of the linguistic elements is intimately linked to the cultural background in which the events take place. Thus, the possible application of Hall’s, Hofstede’s and Lewis’ theories, help explain the moves and the results of the strategies.

Communication Strategies and Crisis Management in 2015-2016 Volkswagen CEO Letters to Shareholder

W. Giordano
2019

Abstract

In 2015, Volkswagen (VW), the German carmaker, had to admit that the emission tests had been cheated in the USA, as the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) discovered many VW vehicles sold in America equipped with a “defeat device" - or software - in diesel engines. This equipment was able to detect when the car was being tested, changing the outcome accordingly to deliver acceptable results under the regulation of emissions (Hotten 2015). The scandal reached Europe, too, and VW had to make up for the inconvenience recalling millions of cars worldwide to fix the device. The words spread on the markets too, causing a fall in sales, and a consequent quarterly loss reported in October 2015 (Cremer 2015), and a collapse in stock market price as well. Surprisingly, or maybe not, the following year, VW became the first world carmaker, in terms of sales (Topham, 2017). This unpredictable result was relevant in terms of communication as the company had initially to apologize and make up for the misconduct; but after the 2016 sales performance, Mathias Müller, VW’s CEO, was able to address communicative strategies, supported by the positive response of the market. This study explores the strategies used by the company to restore trust and manage the crisis. To this aim, the letters to shareholders, included in the 2015 and 2016 VW Annual Reports written by the Mathias Müller, were analyzed. The documents have been investigated both at a discursive level and at a cultural level. On the one hand, in fact, the linguistic devices, the communicative strategies and the tools adopted, have been identified. On the other hand, the analysis of the linguistic elements is intimately linked to the cultural background in which the events take place. Thus, the possible application of Hall’s, Hofstede’s and Lewis’ theories, help explain the moves and the results of the strategies.
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Utilizza questo identificativo per citare o creare un link a questo documento: https://hdl.handle.net/11588/789815
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