The feelings towards the top men at Volkswagen over the last few weeks have been varied, but they have been a mixture of incredulity, resentment and disappointment.
A lack of openness from the company as a whole, and a lack of urgency when it came to reassuring customers about whether their car was involved or not, means that this is not a big surprise.
However, it was hard to not feel a flicker of sympathy for Michael Horn when he faced the music in America today. As the boss of VW in America, Horn was the first senior employee to have to stand up and admit that the company had done wrong, and now he was having to answer questions from a US Congressional committee.
If you missed it, it started with a summary of the situation from a few members of the committee, before Horn issued an apology, when he stated that the investigation was ongoing. Each member of the committee then had five minutes to pose questions.
The committee was (as many of us will be) incredulous that Horn did not know about the defeat devices before 3 September, and he faced this question several times over. He admitted he knew of emissions irregularities, but not about the device itself.
Horn reiterated several times that he didn’t, and that he is not an engineer; his history is in sales.
He also had to state that while he is the CEO, he is the CEO in America and not the overall boss. He also had to reiterate that he had no part in the development of the device in question.
But one reason I felt sorry for Horn was the manner in which the way some of the questions were posed. Lots of the committee started their answer with a personal anecdote, saying they felt scared or let down, but some then dropped in that they had only ever bought petrol cars. Some others asked basic questions, such as whether the emissions standards were different in Europe - something five minutes on Google would have answered. Some barely even asked questions and chose to berate VW for their full five minutes. One example being: “How do you call yourself a member of the human race when you knowingly poisoned the planet?”
Yes, VW has done wrong, the questions need answering, the answers have been insufficient so far and the problems have to be solved. But the questions have to be aimed in the right direction, and the right people have to step forward and answer them rather than leaving someone like Horn to look like a scapegoat. This is a big deal, but it is about more than America and the man at the head of one branch of the company.