By on April 10, 2016

Volkswagen Jetta TDI emissions test, Image: University of West Virginia

Oscar-nominated documentarian and businessman Steve Kalafer is again putting on his producer hat in his latest project, called “Backfire: The Volkswagen Fraud of the Century,” a documentary that aims to find the truth behind the Volkswagen diesel emissions scandal, reports Automotive News.

And he’s the perfect person to do it: Kalafer is also a Volkswagen dealer.

Kalafer, best known for “Sister Rose’s Passion,” a documentary about a nun’s efforts to fight anti-Semitism in the Catholic Church, and for “The Soprano State: New Jersey’s Culture of Corruption,” which examined corruption and politics in New Jersey, will team up with his son, Jonathan, to make the film.

The film producer owns a 17-franchise group in New Jersey, one of them a Volkswagen store, so the project hits close to home for him. However, he will stay behind the camera as he believes any on-camera involvement on his part will have a negative effect on the film.

“I will not have a point of view,” he said. “The participants will.”

The documentary will focus on other stakeholders, such as customers, dealers, regulators, and even former Volkswagen executives.

To date, Kalafer hasn’t launched a website for the film, and it’s not listed as a current project on IMDB. However, we hope Kalafer is successful his project, if for no other reason than this one line during his interview with AN.

“When I came to Volkswagen [to discuss the film], they said, “Why are you doing this?’ I said, “To tell the truth.'”

Atta boy.

[Image: University of West Virginia]

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30 Comments on “‘Backfire’ Documentary Focuses Lens On Volkswagen Diesel Scandal...”


  • avatar
    FreedMike

    It’s not customary to think of a car dealer as a victim, but that’s exactly what VW dealers are in all this. The owners of these dealerships will lose untold millions of dollars for something that they had absolutely no hand in. Families will lose their fortunes. People will lose their jobs.

    Disgusting.

    • 0 avatar
      brn

      That that it justifies what VW did, but VW dealers have been on easy street for a long time. People flock to them to overpay for substandard cars. They then get paid by the factory for all the warranty work. After the warranty is up, they get higher than industry standard markup on parts.

      • 0 avatar
        mason

        Given the mediocore market share VW has historically experienced in the US I have to disagree. Profit from a dealer stand point is no better than any other manufacturer.

        • 0 avatar
          JohnTaurus_3.0_AX4N

          Exactly, VW sales in the US have been in the tank for a while now, and given the lack of decent product, I think VW dealers have probably been struggling for a long time as well.

          Virtually every other mainstream automaker in the USDM has enjoyed decent sales as of late, but VWoA has been sinking even before this scandal hit.

      • 0 avatar
        87 Morgan

        Having worked at a VW store. I don’t think their has ever been an ‘easy street’. Very difficult to make money with VW. Those substandard cars that customers over pay for require the dealer to over pay the factory for them in first place and then sell them to the public for very little gross profit, as everyone ‘knows’ it is a sub standard car.

  • avatar
    28-Cars-Later

    This should be an interesting piece to watch.

  • avatar
    raph

    Kalafur sounds like he will be okay as he has 16 other stealerships to help absorb the losses. It’s the single stealership guys taking it in the rear. Hopefully they were smart enough to protect their personal fortunes.

    • 0 avatar
      05lgt

      That an experienced documentary producer is agrieved but not beholden to VAG gives me hope that he can do some justice to the topic.

    • 0 avatar
      Kyree S. Williams

      Exactly. The dealership where I bought my car (and briefly worked, when my employer was going to buy it) is Cable Volkswagen. The only other dealership the Cable family owns…is a Mitsubishi dealership down the street. They had a Kia dealership, but that was shuttered years ago. They do own a body shop, though.

      • 0 avatar
        lon888

        Cable is the reason I bought my VW at Autobahn in Ft Worth. Went to Cable one Saturday afternoon to look at and possibly buy a GTI. The only salesman that was on that day spent more time running down my possible trade -in, a an immaculate 2005 Civic Si than trying to sell me a new car. What a prick! When people talk about how bad VW dealers are, I immediately think of Cable. I buy my oil filters online so I don’t even have to walk into that place and I only live about 4 miles from the joint.

  • avatar
    multicam

    A lens is not already focused on VW…?

  • avatar
    Rday

    The germans deserve all the bad press they are getting for their hubris and arrogance for the last several centuries. Pride go-eth before the fall, as i recall hearing years ago.

    • 0 avatar
      SCE to AUX

      I don’t agree with that attitude of holding people accountable “for the last several centuries.”

      Such attitudes are how you get a movement for slave reparations (as payment for the wrongs of US slavery going back to 1619), and religious zealotry over events that took place in the 20th century, the Middle Ages, the 1st century AD, or 2000 BC. Jews, Christians, and Muslims can all find something to blame the other for during those time periods.

      Volkswagen has played the nationalist pride card, though, in recent years by proclaiming its superior ‘German Engineering.’ This claim is now debunked, and VW should – and will – be held accountable.

      Germany – especially the reunified version – has been a good world citizen over the last several decades. I don’t wish to throw stones at the forefathers of this generation.

      • 0 avatar
        JohnTaurus_3.0_AX4N

        Agreed, they will pay dearly for every single time they’ve said a variation of “zee Clean Diesel technology” line in the recent past.

        But Germans as a whole are not to blame. Sure, theyre a bit arrogant, but the same could be said (at least at times) of the US, France, United Kingdom (just listen to Jeremy Clarkson lol), Japan, etc. Nobody’s perfect, and if we want to start pointing fingers at every nation/people who have f’ed up in the past, nobody would be without blame.

        Its important to learn from history so the same mistakes are not repeated, not so we can punish those who’s ancestors made those mistakes.

    • 0 avatar
      Von

      Germany was contrite for what they did in WW2, and VW is seeing a massive fallout and will end up paying pretty heavily (though nobody will know until the dust is settled). However, to suggest VW should pay for Germany’s arrogance and hubris, whether it’s the nations or the country’s, is a bit over the top? I even feel bad for the VW employees that had nothing to do with this, the corporate culture came from the top down.

    • 0 avatar
      threeer

      Gee…thanks for lumping every German for the last several centuries into this. I am sure my mother and grandparents had a hand in Volkswagen’s actions…

      • 0 avatar
        Kenmore

        Every major Western nation has had its run as an arrogant, hubristic, expansionist power that was utterly callous, sometimes sadistically boastful, of the consequences for little people who got in its way or became its chattel.

        Germany just came late enough to the game to have fairly advanced technologies and news media in place for it to make a memorable splash. Otherwise the profoundly uneducated like Rday would be unaware that anything interesting had happened.

  • avatar
    Tstag

    If VW had put a fuel tank in the wrong location of a car causing death and injury to purchasers of said cars then you could justifiably throw the book at them and go for damages that could close the company down. The fact that GM and Ford both built rubbish cars (the Pinto and the Malibu) that did have the fuel tank in a stupid place should cause people to ask why VW is being treated as harshly as they are relative to the big US car makers. Something about VW being German and Ford/ GM being American may well have something to do with this.

    If I were VW I’d wind down VW in the US by letting them go under. The total number of cars vs the amount of money they make in the US is not worth it. I’d then buy FCA and make VWs under the Chrysler badge. It would be cheaper and more profitable long term. It would also give VW an American icon which I suspect would make them less vulnerable to attack by protectionists in the US.

    Ironically I don’t thing VW has been treated harshly enough in Europe where they should be compensating every car maker they stole diesel sales off!

    • 0 avatar
      JimZ

      Because what’s going on with VW is happening NOW, while the GM and Ford situations you bring up (which didn’t happen the way you want to claim they happened) were 40 years ago. If you think VW should be let off because of something some other automaker did decades ago, then you’re completely irrational and should be ignored.

      • 0 avatar
        hreardon

        They don’t get a free pass, and I’m not downplaying the importance here, but to the mass market, Volkswagen lied about “emmpeegees”, not emissions. The only people who really understand (and care) about the details are those of us in the forums, government regulators, litigators and environmentalists.

        I’d argue that Takata’s shrapnel airbags, GMs ignition locks, Jeep’s exploding-upon-impact fuel tanks and Toyota’s acceleration issues are far more serious, and all within the last ten years.

        Volkswagen deceived, GM knowingly installed defective ignition locks, Honda ignored warnings about shrapnel and Toyota blamed others. But you know what Volkswagen did that was worse than those in the eyes of consumers? They doubled-down on the lies and stupidity and got caught instead of accepting responsibility and moving on.

        That is what has the ire of the media, government regulators and the dealership body – all of whom have very large megaphones.

        Like all of the other scandals, this too shall pass and the righteous indignation (on both sides) will fade. The only question now is what the total dollar cost will be, because as GM, Ford, Chrysler, Honda, Toyota, Audi and countless others have demonstrated – these situations are survivable.

        • 0 avatar
          JimZ

          what makes you think you can speak to what the “mass market” thinks?

        • 0 avatar
          tedward

          I’m not sure if I agree with that last part hreardon. At the heart of all the other scandals you mention was a denial by each company that any intentional act had been committed, referring both to the cover up and the danger itself. I think the difference is, unfortunately, that Horn publicly apologized and admitted everything right up front (I have yet to see an account that shows the people that the epa were in communication with knew why the cars were failing tests, obviously some people in Germany did). That puts the regulators in a bit of a hot seat, the claims lawyers in the drivers seat pr wise, and gives the media a no counterpoint needed angle on a story. Also, it’s a bit of a novelty.

          The one thing I personally like about how they handled it was Horn’s early response, but I would never recommend another company follow that strategy.

          You are right that consumers don’t care about emissions. Anyone who’s ever seen an industry customer profile can confirm that. Last on they list, and only there bc it’s on the list. This enrages those to whom it does matter, but it is obviously the case when you look at buying patterns. Now mpg, that matters big time, although even then it’s entirely situational where it falls on the list.

    • 0 avatar
      Jack Denver

      I think that you are missing that NoX emissions kill people just the same as exploding airbags or defective gas tanks.

  • avatar
    Jasper2

    Question to all readers:

    Anybody believe VW will be leaving the U.S. market in 2016-2018??
    Specifically, VW will still produce cars in the southern U.S. but sell all VW brand elsewhere?

    • 0 avatar
      87 Morgan

      VW is not going anywhere in the U.S market. May lose some retail points (dealerships) but even those will get shelved and or sold to one of the private equity groups buying stores now to reopen at a later date.

    • 0 avatar
      raph

      Naw, VW might loose a few faithful and people who might have been interested in the brand but by and large VW guys are a loyal lot like any brand or model wing nut.

      When all this first broke in a matter of days my VW buddies started circulating a brand “testimonial” that went something like;

      “I don’t know what they’ve been saying in the media but this is a pic of my totaled Passat Diesel wagon that survived a direct thermonuclear hit. If I had been in any other brand… blah blitty blah blah blah”.

  • avatar
    Storz

    Red jacket, blue jacket who gives a $hit just buy em back.

    • 0 avatar
      brettc

      Indeed. 10 days from now we’ll know something, or perhaps not.

      I did learn recently that average people don’t seem to have a clue about the scandal based on talking to two women that I know (one in her 30s that drives a Versa sedan and one in her 60s that drives a newer Saab).

      So based on that lack of knowing anything about it, I can see VW surviving amongst the masses. It’s only the owners/VW enthusiasts that seem to be keeping up with it on a daily basis waiting for a shred of news.

      • 0 avatar
        derekson

        It’s just like every other scandal in the automotive industry. Non-enthusiasts get bored after a few weeks of stories and forget about it.

        This is why Toyota never suffered from the unintended acceleration scandal or Honda from the Takata stuff, etc. I think things were different in the 80s before the 24/7 media blitz when the 60 Minutes segment almost killed Audi in the US.

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