When the dust is settled, Volkswagen will likely have to retrofit roughly 11 million diesel vehicles worldwide with revised engine software and/or new emissions hardware to prevent harmful pollutants from entering the atmosphere. However, in an open letter to California Air Resources Board (CARB) Chairman Mary Nichols, Tesla Motors and SpaceX CEO Elon Musk and a group of 44 other “green” technology leaders suggest that Volkswagen should not waste resources trying to fix an inherently “dirty” form of propulsion.
“In the simplest terms, we have reached the point of diminishing returns in extracting performance from a gallon of diesel while reducing pollutants, at least at reasonable cost,” wrote the leaders in the open letter. “Unsurprisingly, and despite having the greatest research and development program in diesel engines, VW had to cheat to meet current European and U.S. standards.
“Meeting future tighter diesel standards will prove even more fruitless.”
In other words, if Volkswagen, which sells the greatest number of diesel-powered passenger vehicles in the United States by far, couldn’t economically come up with a solution for its engines before; what makes us think that they can do so now under even more pressure? The amount of resources needed to retrofit existing vehicles will be immense, not to mention that older vehicles that were never engineered to accommodate emissions controlling equipment like urea injection would have to be heavily modified and coaxed into compliance. Furthermore, we also have to take into account that some Volkswagen diesel owners simply won’t bring their vehicles in to be fixed if the fix reduces performance or mileage.
The green leaders call out CARB specifically because it has been the most aggressive in pursuing Volkswagen, demanding that the offending diesel-powered vehicles be fixed as soon as possible. Instead of a resource-intensive retrofitting campaign, they suggest that CARB should “cure the air, not the cars.”
The open letter suggests that Volkswagen should be absolved from fixing these diesel vehicles. In return, Volkswagen could be required to significantly ramp up its development and release of zero-emission vehicles (i.e. electric vehicles) which in no way contribute to harmful tailpipe emissions and promote a more “green” environment that the CARB is tasked with promoting in the first place. It is also suggested that the amount of money that Volkswagen would have paid in fines be poured into research for future zero-emissions vehicles and advanced powertrains.
“A satisfactory way to fix all the diesel cars does not likely exist, so this solution side steps the great injury and uncertainty that imposing an ineffective fix would place on individual diesel car owners,” the open letter continues. “A drawn out and partial failure of the process will only exacerbate the public’s lack of trust in the industry and its regulators.”
While this all sounds like a plausible solution to this admittedly whopper of a problem, the leaders backing this proposal stand to gain a lot if CARB were to even consider it. Just look at the names on the list — they’re CEOs and executives of investment groups and tech companies that have a vested interest in the advancement of electric vehicles. As a result, they stand to gain a lot if Volkswagen comes calling for drive motors, control units, lithium-ion batteries, and other components necessary for building electric vehicles.
So in that sense, this open letter is a bit self-serving, don’t ya think?