Volkswagen’s brazen cheating on air pollution rules rocked an industry with a history of skulduggery. The scandal has now cost the company $30 billion plus jail time for one executive.
Alberto Ayala was a key California Air Regulator who investigated the VW cheating scandal. He recalls how “after years of working with the company going back and forth, we really put them in a corner where they had no other answer... other than just to admit that it was a defeat device.”
Margo Oge, former Director of the Office of Transportation and Air Quality at the U.S. EPA, was not surprised by the deception per se. “Almost every company has cheated,” she says. “What was different here was the level of cheating… and the fact that they kept on lying.”
For auto industry analyst Edward Niedermeyer, the lesson of Dieselgate is, as the saying goes, “your mileage may vary.” VW owners who’ve stuck by the company “just expect these variations exist, and rightly so, because, you know, the real world is very chaotic and variable.”
That said, Niedermeyer does see a silver lining in the scandal with respect to the auto industry’s transition to electric vehicles. “I think it's really fantastic that one of the outcomes of Dieselgate is that the penalties include investments in electric charging infrastructure,” he says. “We need to have this be a teachable moment and a moment to really think about this transition.”
Margo Oge is even more optimistic about the transition to electric. “The expectation by many experts is that by 2022 maybe 2023 timeframe, the overall cost of owning an electric car will be the same as owning an internal combustion engine,” she notes. “And by the way, it's more fun to drive than a gasoline car.”
Oge also cites the impact of the VW scandal beyond the auto industry itself, especially in Europe. “The highest court in Germany said that the cities can ban diesel. You can imagine the chill factor that is going down the spinal of these companies,” she explains. “Dieselgate has a huge impact… to get cities and states realizing that the air pollution that they are facing comes from diesel cars.”
For Alberto Ayala, the impact is even broader. “We really have to entertain the idea that fossil fuels need to stay in the ground,” he says, “ and luckily, we have technology that I think can step in and essentially provide an alternative.” Noting the influence of carmakers influence on consumer behavior through the billions of dollars they spend on marketing, he asks us to “Imagine if they spent a fraction of that, you know, Super Bowl commercials all over the place with zero emission vehicle instead of pickups, imagine the response that the consumer would have.”
This program was generously underwritten by the ClimateWorks Foundation.