Volkswagen board members must be wondering how to put away this never-ending diesel scandal, now in its third year. Despite trying its best to avoid the consequences, the auto giant was once again caught a few months back with emission tricks. Adding insult to injury, a German political scandal is brewing from citizens demanding politicians step in … and many politicians not wanting to step in.
Germany, The Law, Its Citizen, & VW
It must be something going from idolized to shamed. VW, long one of the pinnacles of the German car industry, was caught red handed three years ago for massive cheating and has since been trying to remedy the situation, without much success in the eyes of many (but also without a significant sales hit).
Matthias Muller, the company’s current CEO, hasn’t helped with his fair share of blunders. Recently, he was expounding on the great green future ahead, only to say the same about the future of diesel at another event just days apart. Those direct but varied insights into the company’s motives show the company actively pursuing two incompatible boulevards into the future. Its wronged clientele aren’t happy with how the whole mess is being handled in Germany, where politicians and regulators haven’t enacted anywhere close to the same penalties as they have in the United States, and these unhappy prior customers are taking VW to the courts.
Moving on, consider this, from Transport & Environment (T&E): “More than 90% of new Euro 6 types of diesel on sale today … don’t meet the EU emission limits on the road [but] are still exempt from low emission zones (LEZs) or diesel bans in European cities reveals.” According to Transport & Environment, the report says the new Euro 6 diesels exceed the current nitrogen oxides (NOx) levels by 4 to 5 times, with some models as far as 10 times higher. The big culprits are actually Renault, Fiat, and Opel models this time. The widespread flaunting of the regulations leave the European government in a hot seat as to why Euro 6 models are polluting with more NOx than some of the old ones now banned. And it’s not just the Germans. But wait, it gets worse…
According to a European Environment Agency report, diesel was yet again determined to be one of the dominant causes of toxic nitrogen dioxide emissions across European cities and to cause 68,000 premature deaths there annually. 68,000 premature deaths. Annually.
Governments Seeing How Far The Law Stretches
Politicians tell you they represent you, and will battle for you. Tell us if you’ve heard that one before. Once in power, however, they say the political scenery is unmanageable and can’t be changed quickly. They back off and represent lobbies of vested interests. This specific case is even trickier because it includes not just lobbying but corporations heavily swaying politics and public opinion through massive PR campaigns.
Also, consider that about 40 million diesel cars and vans are on the road today in Europe. Drivers would prefer to not think that their vehicles are crappy, polluting, and even deadly, but this 40 million vehicle figure is a constant reminder of the widespread influence and ongoing reach of dieselgate. You can surely imagine how the mainstream media is being used to portray an overly rosy portrait of the situation. With a closer look from our German CleanTechnica team, it has become apparent many are looking for a way to shove reality into a dark corner.
However, we still have some big questions. What happens if carmakers refuse to clean up dirty diesel vehicle production (as they are basically doing)? What can cities do when their air pollution has gone up exponentially over the past few decades? The argument presented is that they have no other choice but to implement drastic car restriction measures to protect public health. Carmakers are not taking those measures lightly at all, and neither are some of the diesel-driving citizens of these places. Why should they be penalized? After all, they were just trying to do their bit to be a little greener, right?
With so many European cities looking to ban diesel, if these vehicles get shipped to Central and Eastern European countries or elsewhere, this will have disastrous consequences on the local environments there as well as the global environment. Those diesel-friendly cities — such as Warsaw, Prague, or Sofia — will export their toxic fumes across Europe, by the way.
Julia Poliscanova concluded: “There’s a high risk that Central and Eastern European cities will be flooded with cheap, dirty diesel that Western Europeans can no longer drive where they want. European Commission should consider what measures can be put in place to ensure all second-hand imported cars have had their exhaust treatment systems fixed or upgraded. All Europeans have an equal right to clean air and a joint European solution is needed.”
Can Government Truly Represent Its Constituents With Overwhelming Corporate Lobbying?
In a Kafkaesque turn of events, two German court rulings are now saying that German cities can ban diesel traffic if it interferes with their citizens’ right for clean, fresh, breathable air. This takes precedence over anything else. A quick look around shows how that is already affecting the market (along with the bad PR for diesel).
Although the diesel market grew to 53% of all cars sold in Europe in 2011 and 70% globally, the dieselgate scandal has reversed the trend. Its market share is now down to 44% in Europe after an 8% decline in 2017. But this could have happened much sooner with proper foresight, planning, and regulations.
In the end, one of the greatest outbreaks of gangrene our modern societies suffer from is corporate greed. It has stood in the way of progress which would have brought much needed changes years if not decades ago. Government’s blatant refusal to better mediate lobbying efforts, improve the way it gathers resources, and fix the way corporations design and manufacture products, has all led to the disasters we face today — 68,000 premature deaths a year in Europe, for example.
What is shocking here is that had the diesel scandal story broken elsewhere, it would have been a blip on the radar. But this was Germany. Worse yet, this was about those German can-do-no-wrong carmaker guys. After being incessantly reminded about THE CAR OF YOUR DREAMS, THE ULTIMATE DRIVING MACHINE, GERMAN ENGINEERING, (pardon the caps for advertising emphasis!), it’s hard to shake the bitter taste left in your mouth. In order to move on, companies will use PR, marketing, and advertising to paint a green face on an otherwise very energy intensive and polluting auto manufacturing industry. Will we fall for green deceit again?