To compensate for the trickery that was its Dieselgate scandal, Volkswagen will have to pay fines and recall the vehicles involved to retrofit them with special devices. Recently, the automaker looked for $21.5 billion in financing to brace the coffers for a massive financial hit. Unfortunately, this solution will do little (if anything) about reducing emissions.
So what if those billions of dollars were spent developing and selling zero-emissions electric vehicles in California instead? This solution, which would offer a huge boost for the green car industry and represent a greater win for air quality, was proposed to the head of CARB by a group of 44 industry figures that includes Tesla CEO Elon Musk.
In an open letter to Mary Nichols, head of the influential Air Resources Board, Musk and co-players from the EV ecosystem called for a pause on pending punishments and proposed a solution that would have Volkswagen “cure the air, not the cars.” The five recommendations include CARB “directing VW to accelerate greatly its rollout of zero emission vehicles” and to set a guideline of “10 for 1 or greater reduction in pollutant emissions” compared to the diesel fleet within five years.
As far as California is concerned, the letter goes on to suggest CARB require VW to take the money it would pay Sacramento in Dieselgate fines and build a green vehicle plant in the Golden State, creating jobs and setting a concrete emissions-reduction plan in motion.
Musk and the group of signers, which includes the executive director of The Sierra Club and film producer Lawrence Bender (Pulp Fiction, Kill Bill, An Inconvenient Truth), point out that the many billions in settlement money will be “wasted” otherwise.
The group argues also Volkswagen diesel drivers will not participate in the “fix” if it reduces performance, as it is guaranteed to do. Meanwhile, some cars cannot be fixed and face the crusher, which would represent a severe waste of resources. The sum total of the action leveled at the automaker may be spending close to $30 billion in order to barely improve a highly-polluting drivetrain.
Though the concept seems as forward-thinking as the Tesla Model S, the letter’s authors point out that the EPA did something similar when a diesel truck scandal emerged in the 1990s. Instead of imposing arbitrary fines, the EPA forced automakers to comply with stricter standards at an earlier date, which resulted in lower net emissions.
Adding another major electric car plant to California would likely bring down the cost of an EV for consumers as well. Musk has always welcomed competition that meant good things for the industry (and the air, too).
We won’t hold our breath hoping CARB takes the suggestion to heart. If indeed the board’s purpose is bringing down emissions and cleaning up the air, as a spokesman told Newsweek, the idea is certainly worth a run up the flagpole.