Can the VW emissions scandal be mapped?

I was very surprised to find no maps whatsoever of the VW emissions scandal, and decided to take a look into it myself.

Before the scandal the Volkswagen (VW) Group had become a giant in the automotive industry with huge market share around the world, a truly global company.

Source: Fortune.com

Timeline

  • 18th September 2015 US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced a notice of violation that irregularities had been discovered in nitrogen oxide emissions of VW group diesel engines
  • 22nd September 2015 VW publicly admitted to these irregularities
  • 2nd November 2015 EPA announced notice of violation alledging software irregularities on some of these cars
  • 3rd November 2015 it was revealed that subsequent internal VW enquiries had revealed irregularities in carbon dioxide emissions on European models
  • Decemeber 2015 downgrading of VW ratings by Standard & Poor’s

Looking into mapping the scandal, the main problem seems to be a lack of data. VW Group, like many car companies, share their figures through annual and interim reports for shareholders; but like many of their counterparts they can be pretty vague, in fact I would go so far as to say it is bad open data.

Firstly not all of the figures are downloadable as tabular data, most I had to manually copy from tables and textual descriptions in PDFs of the paper reports. Secondly, as is evident from Fortune’s map above, the data well.., isn’t very granular! Car companies like to share their results in what they call ‘key markets’ which are a mixture of continental regions, subregions and countries. In areas like Europe and Asia this makes it impossible to distinguish how well they are doing in say France compared to Italy, or India versus China. Furthermore it makes it very difficult to map!

The other issue is the release cycle of this data. It seems the data is released in annual reports (ending December) that are published in late April of the following year, and in interim reports (January to September) that are published in November.

So for the scandal I only have data upto and including the final quarter (Q4) of 2015 and nothing for quarter one (Q1) of 2016 — data I would have liked but I presume won’t be available until November 2016.

If anyone would like, the data I have captured is available as a Microsoft Excel workbook here.

Map 1: Difference in VW Group Q4 % gain by no. of deliveries vs VW Group annual (year average) % gain
Map 1: Difference in VW Group Q4 % gain by no. of deliveries vs VW Group annual (year average) % gain

In the car industry it is not possible to compare one quarter against another because sales (measured here as deliveries) are not consistent across the calendar year as can be seen on the graph from VW in their annual report.

So what I have done in Map 1 (above) is to compare the percentage gain in sales in Q4 2015 on Q4 2014 against the percentage gain in 2015 as a whole versus 2014. The data and the map clearly show that across the globe the VW group has perfomed considerably weaker in Q4 2015 than it would have expected to given that the loss of sales has increased compared to the annual average, with figures trailing the market average by over 20% in Turkey, India and Japan. The only place where sales haven’t been affected too much is the company’s home nation of Germany.

On the other hand, the colours of the map show that the overall decline is not as bad as one might have thought. The impact of the scandal on the VW group may have been profound with a full shake-up at board and senior management level but in terms of the sales figures the impact is less apparent.

Map 2 (below) shows that VW sales throughout 2015 were down on the previous year by slightly more than the industry average anyway. Note the numeric percentages are the difference between VW and the market average, for example in the USA VW sales had declined by 4.5% more than the average market decline.

Confused? Download the data table and it will make more sense.

Map 2: Difference in VW Group annual (year average) % gain by no. of deliveries vs year average % gain of the rest of the industry
Map 2: Difference in VW Group annual (year average) % gain by no. of deliveries vs year average % gain of the rest of the industry

However it is when we compare this to Map 3 which looks specifically at VW’s fourth quarter (Q4) performance compared to the 2015 industry trend that we see something interesting.

Over 2015 as a whole (Map 2, above), VW had been fairing slightly worse in the East than in the West (in relation to the perfomance the previous year). But in Q4 (Map 3, below) this trend is switched, globally still underperforming but the worse results are now in the West rather than the East.

This is where a map doesn’t always help statistics. We have data for Asia-Pacific which is a vast area on the map. You almost don’t see how deep red Japan has become! So one might argue that a point-based map, like the one in Fortune at the top of the post, rather than a polygon-based map, would be more suitable.

Map 3: Difference in VW Group Q4 % gain by no. of deliveries vs year average % gain of the rest of the industry
Map 3: Difference in VW Group Q4 % gain by no. of deliveries vs year average % gain of the rest of the industry

VW figures in Asia are somewhat blurred due to joint ventures in China but it is definitely noteworthy that sales in Japan plummeted far more than the national average.

We also definitely witness a downturn in the USA, and so one could speculate that this is a direct result of the emissions scandal. To be sure we would need to know the Q4 results of the rest of the industry in America. But when Ford saw a Q4 increase in sales in North america of a whopping +12.3% on the same quarter the previous year, this would suggest Volkswagen did suffer from the scandal in America even if their worldwide figures don’t necessarily show likewise.

Interestingly VW Group released a publication entitled Q4 Analysis. It doesn’t include any of the statistics I have used, instead it shares that the Q4 sales in 2015 were almost idenitical to Q4 sales in 2014. This is true but it hides the fact that their sales in most of their key markets were out of line with the rest of the industry.

Although I found no 2016 data, Fortune reports that VW sales continue to fall in 2016 but at a lessened rate.

 

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