170,000 miles later things are starting to look very different. It now emerges that VW lied about the emissions tests. Not in the way that we have come to consider normal practice for advertisers. They didn't take the truth and spin it. They consciously and deliberately cheated the tests. Not once or twice in a few obscure branch offices by accident. Systematically across the whole of the United States they decided to build into their cars technology to cheat the tests. As soon as the test was over their cars switched back to operating in ways that pushed out up to 40 times the amount of nitrous oxide that the tests recorded. Since nitrous oxide is a much worse greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide - I've heard the figure of 100 times worse quoted - the impact on climate change will have been appalling.
It is now emerging that it isn't just in the US where VW has been cheating the tests. Nor is it just VW. Testing of almost all makes of car in actual use regularly shows that emissions are four times higher than recorded in their glossy brochures and accepted by the regulators. There can only be one reason why the companies are doing this. They believe they can make better profits if they dodge the regulations. The short term profit and loss calculations of multinational car manufacturers has over-ridden any concern they may have for the environment and any respect they may have for the laws of the countries in which they operated. But don't worry. It is all OK. The company has put £5bn aside to cover the fines. Some consumers might even get some compensation for being sold a lie. But no one can compensate the environment for the damage.
The Chief Executive of VW has of course apologised. They all do when they are found out. It is also evident that since he set the culture and strategy of the company and was the responsible leader he will have to lose his job - no doubt with a nice exit package. We will be told that it is just a case of one bad apple. It isn't.
On the same day that we learned that virtually every car company on the planet is manipulating environmental testing results there was another interesting piece of reporting from a chemical company. Turing Pharmaceuticals thought it would be a good idea to put up the price of a drug to help those with HIV symptoms from $13.50 to $750 overnight. The Chief Exec of the Hedge Fund which had bought up the drugs rights explained that this was just a piece of normal business practice. He had been lucky enough to find an Aston Martin type product on sale for the price of a moped and had been kind enough to only increase the price to somewhere close to that of an average family saloon. He looked on the deal as a simple business arrangement and couldn't really understand what all the fuss was about. He was just making a profit.
There is, in my view, nothing wrong with running an organisation efficiently and taking a decent profit in reward for your efforts. This goes a go deal too far. This is a culture which believes that when a company can make a lot more profit from ignoring the impact on others on what they do then they should go right ahead. With the drug company that means that the normal concern any of us would have for a fellow member of the community with a health problem is ditched the second the chance to make a quick buck is noticed. Their attitude was "Pay up your $750 a dose because I want to make even more money than I already have". With VW the attitude was that they didn't give a damn about the impact on the environment all they wanted to do was to sell a few more cars and dump the problems onto the future. With the bankers in 2008 the attitude was that they were prepared to risk complete economic chaos and give people years of economic misery provided that they could increase the size of their bonus this year by gambling with other people's money.
Free enterprise isn't always and everywhere the solution to all problems. Sometimes, it is the source of those problems. If you don't want to find that ordinary people suffer at the hands of the short sighted profit seeking of others then you have to properly control private enterprise. If we are to have any hope of rescuing the environment from irrecoverable damage then it is going to be necessary to make sure private enterprise operates responsibly. A global company selling a product like a car, a medicine or a complex financial derivative of a credit default swop needs to be subject to rigorous global controls.
That is the challenge for modern government. We have lived through an era of 30 to 40 years where the ideology of the free market has gone almost unchallenged. Nations and political parties have bought into the illusion that if they make themselves a little bit less regulated than their neighbours then they will attract multinational companies and this will help them grow and get rich. The end result of all this de-regulation is a culture of extreme irresponsibility has dominated politics and economics. Make your profits, take them and your income to the country with the lowest tax rates, dump your pollution on the environment and get out as quick as you can with your money. Bugger the poor. Bugger the environment. Cheat your way past any legislation that you can.
We now need to move the pendulum back towards the centre. Modern government needs to find ways of making sure industry and commerce pays the real cost of what it is doing not just the internal costs. We need to make sure there is strong environmental and social legislation and importantly that there is strong enforcement and we need to make many of those laws international.
This, for all its flaws, is one of the reasons why I back the EU. It may not have learned how to make international regulations quickly and effectively. It may not have learned how to make them stick and how to enforce them properly. But it has at least tried to control and guide free market forces and create a space where people can live reasonable lives without being at the constant mercy of the next organisation who wants only to make money out of them and their countryside. We are going to need to defend the EU very actively over the next few months or we are going to find ourselves bounced into a very dangerous exit which will be bad for England and bad for the EU.
I leave you to judge for yourself how the balance of power will play out between powerful international companies like VW, hedge funds and the financial speculators and one small country stuck on the edge of a weakened EU. To me it looks like the exact opposite of the way forward.