Motoring's most controversial moments
From fiery factory faults to cheating on emissions tests, here are five scandals that rocked the automotive world in recent years
From factory faults that became burning issues to corporate skulduggery and car designs that have left mouths agape, the motoring world has had its share of scandals.
Here are five automotive controversies that got us hot under the collar or caused major blips on the radar in recent years.
In probably the biggest motoring controversy of the last few decades, in 2015 the Volkswagen Group was caught rigging its diesel cars to cheat emissions tests. Diesel engines powering about 11-million VWs and Audis worldwide were found to have unhealthy nitrogen oxide emissions many times higher than claimed by the factory.
The VW Emissions scandal, better known as Dieselgate, saw VW’s chief executive Martin Winterkorn resigning in disgrace, and it has cost VW more than €30-billion worldwide in legal costs, fines and compensation.
It was subsequently found that many other carmakers’ vehicles exceeded legal emission limits outside the laboratory, which has led to the adoption of more stringent Worldwide harmonised Light vehicles Test Procedures (WLTP) that better reflect emissions and fuel consumption in real life driving conditions.
Ford Kuga fires
Dozens of Ford Kuga SUVs in SA were destroyed by fires between 2015 and 2018 after catching alight due to a fault with the engine’s cooling system.
The company instituted a recall of the vehicles to rectify the factory fault, and eventually reached a settlement last year with the National Consumer Commission to pay a R35-milion fine, as well as R50,000 compensation to the owners whose 1.6 Kugas caught alight.
Reshall Jimmy died in his burning Kuga, but Ford denies it was due to the factory fault, and an inquest into his death is ongoing.
GM leaves SA
American auto giant General Motors dropped a bombshell in 2017 by announcing it was pulling out of SA as part of a money-saving global strategy that also saw GM quitting India, Russia and Europe.
Isuzu KBs continue to be built in Port Elizabeth through the subsequently-established Isuzu Motors SA, and Opel has stuck around thanks to the Williams Hunt dealer group. But, it was goodbye to Chevrolet, which meant the demise of the popular-selling utility half-tonner bakkie and Spark hatchback.
Porsche builds an SUV
It’s common to see SUVs from sports car brands today, but back in 2002 it seemed unthinkable that a German car firm known for iconic low-slung sports cars, like the 911 and Boxster, would make a bloated, high-riding vehicle that could go offroad.
Purists cried foul that this once-great car company had sold its soul, but Porsche saw where the wind was blowing and the Cayenne - and the subsequently-launched Macan SUV - have become the company’s two most popular sellers.
The Cayenne’s success inspired other unlikely car firms to add such vehicles to their model repertoires, spawning a market of premium sports SUVs like the Bentley Bentayga, Lamborghini Urus, Aston Martin DBX and Maserati Levante.
Tesla founder Elon Musk is no stranger to making a scene, but even by the inventive billionaire’s standards the Cybertruck was a shocker.
Looking like a prop from an apocalyptic sci-fi movie, the electric bakkie really cranks up the weird-o-meter with its futuristic, angular body.
The concept version’s unpainted body is made from the same super-hard stainless steel used in the Starship rocket developed by Musk's SpaceX aerospace company. The body was undented after being hit with a sledgehammer at the vehicle’s unveiling in November, and the windows are bulletproof.
Tesla has already booked orders for more than 535,000 units.