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BACKFIRED: When VW Lied to America tells the inside story of the VW scandal as it unravels beginning at West Virginia University in 2013 where a group of unsuspecting students accidentally discover the defeat device while doing rare on-road testing. They immediately share their stunning discovery with CARB (California Air Resources Board) that verifies the findings and engages with the EPA and DOJ to plot carefully filing suit against VW's top executives. VW is slapped with the largest fine in US auto history: $15 billion in what's now known as 'Dieselgate.' And, it gets worse. Most recently, it was discovered that VW secretly tested emissions from defeat devices on innocent monkeys at a lab in New Mexico.

From West Virginia to California, to Washington DC, to Germany and Paris, we hear from those who broke the case and sought justice. BACKFIRED will leave viewers with new insight into the role of regulators, the power of money, and the willingness of major corporations knowingly to endanger the health of millions and to increase carbon emissions dramatically. Most important, it will inspire viewers to think about our obligation to our children and to continue the fight for clean air and a livable planet.

'Sustainable business and technology are a critical movement for our planet. The VW scandal warns us to be vigilant to the outright deception that some companies will stoop to in order to appear green. Backfired reminds us that those in powerful management positions will face pressures to engage in illegal and immoral actions. It also puts the VW scandal into the context of history, showing us all that came before to create a cleaner environment and how this scandal may serve as a pivotal event for continuing that path through ever greater efforts at sustainable business and technology.' Andy Hoffman, Professor of Environment and Sustainability, Professor of Sustainable Enterprise, Professor of Management and Organizations, University of Michigan, Co-author, Flourishing: A Frank Conversation about Sustainability

'Backfired is much more than a study of colossal corporate malfeasance. It is also a morality play about the state and federal regulators who uncovered the cheating and fought for just settlements, as well as the need for the automobile industry to utilize renewable energy sources. Although this gripping documentary presents the depressing story of the cultural and managerial factors at VW that produced the Dieselgate scandal, it also includes an inspiring vision of progress toward environmental sustainability.' John R. Boatright, Professor Emeritus of Business Ethics, Loyola University Chicago, Author, Ethics and the Conduct of Business and Ethics in Finance

'Terrific...captures the outrageous dissembling and theft of health committed by VW.' Dr. Dick Jackson, Professor Emeritus, UCLA Fielding School of Public Health

'An amazing job. None of the other reports I've seen including my own put the Volkswagen scandal into the context of the whole clean air movement. There is a lot of fascinating detail and I learned a lot.' Jack Ewing, New York Times, Author, Faster, Higher, Farther: The Volkswagen Scandal

'In this struggle where failure is not an option, we must either win each battle or learn from our losses what we need to win the next one. The environment was the loser for over a decade due to VW's cheating. This film can help us learn from that defeat in terms of what we need to move ahead in the classroom, boardroom, and regulatory policy making arenas.' William Newman, Professor of Management, Miami University

'Volkswagen's lies and deceitful behavior rival the villainous exploits of both Enron and Bernie Madoff! VW knowingly produced 11 million cars with software that falsely altered their pollution exhaust rate. This case needs to be carefully studied by all students of business and business ethics.' Al Gini, Professor of Business Ethics, Loyola University Chicago

'An important story. As a researcher of behavioral ethics, I have found many anecdotes of goals and incentives increasing unethical behavior of individuals within organizations. The VW scandal is even more abhorrent - they purposely concealed test results to increase sales and profits. Backfired highlights the impact of the VW goal of becoming the top automobile company in the world. Well, they achieved their goal - but at what cost?' Dr. Lisa Ordonez, Professor of Management and Organizations, Professor of Marketing, University of Arizona

'If you care about the air you breathe and want to know what some companies are doing to make your air worse, while claiming to make it better, Backfire, which tells the story of what US regulators are doing to call those companies to account and give us the clean air we deserve, is for you.' Alan Morrison, Associate Dean for Public Interest Law, George Washington University

'An engaging introduction to one of the most shocking acts of corporate deception since Enron. A 'must' case to discuss for anyone teaching ethics, for any business leader trying to run an ethical organization, or for any community interested in creating a more honest and open society.' Nicholas Epley, Professor of Behavior Science, University of Chicago


Main credits

Bell, Dale (film writer)
Bell, Dale (film producer)
Bell, Dale (film director)
Bell, Dale (editor of moving image work)
Friedman, Margie (film producer)
Olney, Warren (narrator)

Other credits

Camera, story editor: Dale Bell; editor: Ralph Herman.

Docuseek2 subjects

Distributor subjects

Business Practices
Clean Air
Climate Change/Global Warming
Environmental Engineering
Marketing and Advertising
Political Science
Science, Technology, Society
Toxic Chemicals
Urban Studies
Western US


auto scandal, defeat devices, VW diesels, public health, climate change, dieselgate, emissionsgate, CA emissions standards, West Virginia University, clean air act, TDI, diesel engines, NOx, 2013, 2015, EPA, Volkswagen, regulators, business ethics, obligations to children, asthma, corporate deceit, corporate crime, CARB, Mary Nichols, Elizabeth Cabraser, Cynthia Giles, John Cruden, Jack Ewing, Jerry Brown, Arnold Schwarzenegger, UN Climate Change Conference, Paris, diesel emissions scandal; "Backfired"; Bullfrog Films