Volkswagen Scandal Inspires Book and Movie Deals
Volkswagen’s emissions scandal isn’t going away anytime soon now that the New York Times journalist Jack Ewing has secured a six-figure book deal with publisher Norton. To make things worse for VW, Hollywood is also getting in on the action. According to The Hollywood Reporter, Paramount Pictures and Leonardo DiCaprio’s Appian Way Productions have acquired the rights to the forthcoming Ewing book that details the worst scandal to ever hit Volkswagen in its 78-year history.
Ewing’s book is expected to dive deep into the German automaker’s clean diesel scandal that has caused havoc to the company’s share prices and led to the resignation of longtime CEO Martin Winterkorn.
At this point, a lot of people have already heard about the VW scandal, which came to light when the Environmental Protection Agency ordered Volkswagen to pull 500,000 of its diesel cars off the road in the U.S. after discovering that the company had intentionally programmed its vehicles with emissions-dodging software. The illegal software kept car’s emissions numbers in line with U.S. regulatory standards during testing, but turned off during normal driving. As a result, these diesel cars were emitting up to 40 times the legal amount of harmful pollutants. Volkswagen later admitted that close to 11 million of its cars were rigged with the cheating software.
The backlash behind the company’s admission of guilt has been staggering. Volkswagen’s shares dropped 40 percent after the news broke and the company is expected to pay up to $18 billion in fines from the EPA. It’s also under investigation in its home country of Germany and there’s a distinct possibility that many of its executives could go to prison. Investigations around the world are also ongoing, so it’s likely more bad news is coming.
The movie deal is the latest black eye to hit Volkswagen. Details of the movie won’t be revealed until after Ewing’s proposed book is published, so at the very least, VW can take comfort knowing that the big screen adaptation of this scandal won’t hit theaters in the foreseeable future. Plus, the story isn’t even over.
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Why it matters
Hollywood has always been attracted to real-life scandals so news of this movie deal didn’t come as a surprise. Even Leonardo DiCaprio’s involvement through his own production company isn’t a shock since the Hollywood A-lister is considered as one of the most prominent environmental activists in the world.
What I’m most curious about is how the production of the movie, which is based on a book that has yet to be written, is going to play out in the coming years. Obviously, there’s still no source material on the subject in the strictest sense so the whole project will be at a standstill until Ewing’s book is published. Even that doesn’t have a set timeline so anybody who’s excited to see this movie might have to pump his brakes first.
That said, I firmly believe that this movie will be made one way or another. It’s too big of a scandal to just get swept under the rug of studio politics. The VW scandal will have long-term ramifications on the auto industry as a whole and portraying how that came to be is something that’s too good of an opportunity for Paramount Pictures to pass up.
Volkswagen isn’t going to like this one bit, even if it’s treated gently by Ewing’s book and the subsequent movie. The mere fact that it’s going to play a prominent role as the ultimate villain in a movie that’s based on real-life events is the kind of publicity VW doesn’t want hanging over its head for years to come. In reality, it’s a small price to pay compared to what the company is going through right now. From the steep drop in share prices to the billions in fines it has to pay to all the impending lawsuits headed its way, a movie deal is probably the last thing on its mind at this moment.
But that’s going to change in a few years. Just when VW feels like it has already paid its penance, Ewing’s book and this movie will bring everything back to the spotlight. That’s what Volkswagen is really scared of. Darker days are ahead for the German automaker and this new movie deal is just the latest storm it’s going to have to withstand in the future.