Here’s the Volkswagen Electric Car Plan to Atone for Dieselgate

Greenpeace activists demonstrate at the entrance to the Volkswagen (VW) plant in Wolfsburg, central Germany, on November 9, 2015. Germany's consumers association wants auto giant Volkswagen to offer vouchers as a form of compensation to German customers affected by the massive pollution cheating scandal. VW is engulfed in a massive pollution scandal that has so far centred on so-called defeat devices, sophisticated software fitted into diesel engines to skew the results of tests for nitrogen oxide emissions. But the embattled auto giant said an internal probe had uncovered "inconsistencies" on carbon emissions as well, affecting not only diesel engines but petrol engines, too.
The Volkswagen ZEV plan may help put the mockery of “Das Problem” and “Das Diesel” protests to bed | John MacDougall/AFP/Getty Images

There were so many outrages and subplots to the Volkswagen Dieselgate scandal it was hard to follow at times. For those who bought VW’s TDI vehicles, owners learned they did not get the product they were sold. For the rest of America, people learned the air they breathed was more polluted than they thought. When it came time to pay for its sins, Volkswagen had to address each of the parties it cheated. In the case of clean air violations, it included a $2 billion investment in zero-emissions vehicle (ZEV) development.

We now have a picture of where that money will go over the next 10 years. With a program dubbed “Electrify America,” Volkwsagen will spend the pair of billions on infrastructure and awareness for electric cars and fuel-cell vehicles. Along with building charging stations and promoting the technology via public outreach, the automaker plans to launch a pilot program for ZEVs in a California city.

Before all of the above becomes finalized, people can head straight to the Electrify America website and offer suggestions on how the funds should be allocated. Proposals and recommendations for the first 30-month investment are due January 16, 2017. Here are the three major parts of VW’s plan to atone for Dieselgate from the EV side of things.

1. EV charging infrastructure

LONDON, UNITED KINGDOM - JULY 21: Go Ultra Low Volkswagen e-Golf on charge on a London driveway on July 21, 2015 in London, England. Ultra-low emission vehicles such as this can cost as little as 2p per mile to run and some electric cars and vans have a range of up to 700 miles.
EV advocates will see the huge boost in EV charging stations they say are necessary to make plug-ins competitive | Miles Willis/Getty Images

While most EV drivers charge at home, green car advocates say the mere sight of chargers in public helps expand the technology’s reach. You know where the local gas station is; most people don’t know where they can charge. Once Volkswagen launches Part I of its ZEV plan, many U.S. drivers will start seeing places to charge nearby.

The Electrify America website says construction will begin in 2017 and include:

  • Installing over 300 charging stations (up to 150 kW in speed) across 15 metro areas
  • Building over 200 DC fast-charging stations to support the national highway charging network
  • Distributing the stations among apartment complexes, businesses, public parking areas, and retail store lots

2. Educating the public about ZEVs

2017 Chevy Bolt EV
As long-range models like the Chevy Bolt EV arrive at a reasonable price point, consumer awareness of EVs should grow | General Motors

Without question, there is a lack of awareness among auto consumers when it comes to plug-in vehicles. A survey published in December 2016 revealed 60% of respondents saying they knew nothing about electric cars. Automakers who do little to promote expensive plug-in models don’t help the cause, either. However, Volkswagen is getting on the job.

According to Part II of the Electrify America proposal, VW plans to increase awareness and educate the public about plug-ins through a variety of ways. You might see ride-and-drives, advertising campaigns, and social media blitzes all centered around electrified vehicles in the coming years. When people learn about the benefits of EVs and actually test the cars, they like them. Hopefully, the Volkswagen initiative will do a better job of spreading the word.

3. The “Green City” initiative

BMW ReachNow
Electric car-sharing will get a boost from the VW plan | BMW

The third part of Volkswagen’s first 30-month investment involves the creation of a “Green City.” In a California municipality to be named later, VW will set up a pilot program for sustainable mobility. Its proposal would tackle some big problems with modern transportation, including emissions from public buses and car-sharing. To that end, the first draft sounds promising. VW’s Green City might showcase:

  • Zero-emissions buses to be used by a municipal transportation authority
  • Electric car-sharing programs like BMW has already begun
  • ZEV transit applications of various types

While the initial proposals sound promising, the debate will heat up at the start of 2017. Who knows, maybe some good will come of Dieselgate after all.

Follow Eric on Twitter @EricSchaalNY