Volkswagen CEO Herbert Diess went to Switzerland last week to participate in the annual World Economic Forum event. While there, he took the opportunity to sing the praises of Tesla. “I think it’s great to have good competition. We think that Tesla plays a very important role in the transition because they are paving the way. They showed that electric cars are working, that a fully electric car is the right solution. So, we appreciate that,” Diess told the press in Davos, according to CNBC.
Such praise is welcome, of course, but it raises the question of what would have happened to the EV revolution if Tesla hadn’t come along when it did. And let’s not overlook the impact Elon Musk had on the direction of the company after he took over and displaced some of the company’s other founders. What if the only electric cars on the road were Nissan LEAFs and BMW i3s? What if the Chevy Volt was as good as it got in most EV fans’ eyes? (Oh, yeah, the Volt was created because of what Bob Lutz saw Tesla doing.)
It’s easy to look back and smirk at some of Tesla’s early difficulties — missed deadlines, prioritizing the Model X ahead of the Model 3, struggling to get cars out the door at the Fremont factory. Each of us can think of instances where we might have done things differently than Elon did. But here we are in 2020 and the feeling is that the transition to electric transportation — not only for private cars but also for heavy trucks and even aircraft — has begun and is gaining speed on a daily basis. Would the Volkswagen MEB electric car platform even exist without Tesla constantly pushing the envelope?
Upping Its Green Energy Game
The EV revolution certainly gave Volkswagen a chance to recover from its self-inflicted wounds after its diesel cheating scandal broke in 2015. It has come roaring back from that debacle to recapture its position as one of the largest car companies in the world. As part of its commitment to building electric vehicles, the company is also pursuing a plan to become carbon neutral in all of its manufacturing activities by 2050.
Reaching that goal means using more renewable energy. In a press release this week, the company said 70% of the electricity it buys from external sources for its 16 factories around the world, excluding those in China, comes from renewables. Before the end of 2020 it says it will increase that to 90%. In addition, Volkswagen generates its own electricity at several of its factories, some of it from burning coal.
That’s the current situation at the factory in Wolfsburg, but that generating station will be shut down and converted to a high-efficiency combined cycle gas turbine by 2022. Once the switchover is made, emissions from the generating plant will be cut by 60%, keeping nearly 1.5 million tons of carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere every year. That’s the equivalent of the emissions attributable to 870,000 conventional automobiles.
Some people still like to hate on Volkswagen for its diesel cheating activities, overlooking the fact that other car companies were up to their eyeballs in cheating schemes of their own, but the company has moved all the senior executives aside who were responsible for those abuses and adopted a new attitude — thanks to the unrelenting efforts of Tesla and Elon Musk.