Electric Cars Get $2 Billion Boost From Dieselgate Payout

Volkswagen’s Dieselgate payout includes $2 billion set aside for U.S. electric vehicle development. | Julian Stratenschulte/AFP/Getty Images

As far as penalties levied against offending automakers go, the $15 billion Volkswagen agreed to pay out for Dieselgate has no equivalent in U.S. history. Nearly two-thirds of that money will go to owners of the TDI cars, but $2.7 billion will go toward measures aiming to undo the damage done by high-emitting diesels. Last but not least, another $2 billion has been earmarked for development of zero-emissions vehicles in America over the next 10 years, representing a major boost for electric cars.

The exact breakdown has yet to be figured out by regulators and the various agencies involved, but hydrogen fuel cell vehicles and EVs fall under the banner of zero-emissions, so both should see money going their way in infrastructure and possibly product development. While $1.2 billion will be set aside for plans suggested by the EPA, that leaves $800 million for the California Air Resources Board (CARB), the group that was instrumental in holding Volkswagen accountable for its clean air violations.

Tesla Model S
View from inside a Tesla Model S  | Joe Raedle/Getty Images

After running down the terms for Volkswagen diesel owners, CARB director Mary Nichols described the portion set aside for the Golden State as the means to begin a “vast expansion of zero-emissions vehicles in the state of California.” Nichols described the program as “brand-neutral” with funding provided by VW and said it would include an expansion of charging station facilities and other elements of infrastructure to increase EV adoption.

In a state where electric cars have the highest concentration in the nation, you can imagine what another $800 million might do for the roll-out of fast chargers and other programs that help keep vehicle emissions down. The rest of the country could use much more than the $1.2 billion it will be allotted.

Nissan Leaf charging on New York's Lower East Side
Nissan Leaf charging on New York’s Lower East Side | Stan Honda/AFP/Getty Images

If you had to make a list of things standing in the way of electric car development, charging concerns would be near the top of the list. Charging stations serve an obvious need as a practical source of fuel, but the visualization of the equipment in action serves as an educational tool for a population that is admittedly unaware of how the technology works.

Charging issues go hand-in-hand with the range anxiety that exists for anyone driving a car that goes fewer than 100 miles on a full “tank.” In the soft EV market in Northeastern states, stations delivering charge at any speed are desperately needed in public places and apartment complexes. (There should be terms and conditions for any Dieselgate-funded charger that insures the provider cannot charge exorbitant rates.)

Clean vehicle advocates might balk at funds going to help fuel cell vehicle infrastructure, but those battles will be waged later. For now, we have to give the government credit for putting teeth in the penalties levied against Volkswagen, which manipulated consumers and the market in general with its emissions testing scam.

Maybe the windfall will be the boost electric vehicles need to reach more people. If we had a vote on budgeting the $2 billion, it would be to keep charging stations coming and to get the word out. Statistics show about half of American drivers could use an EV in their daily travels. Considering the potential savings in emissions and daily expenses for U.S. drivers, the public deserves much more information about plug-ins from automakers and regulators alike.

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