The diesel scandal seems to be winding down as Volkswagen is sorry for manipulating millions of vehicles with cheat software to seem as though it met emissions standards. So far it’s cost VW €22.6 billion and now, national regulators have given the carmaker a green light to revamp the affected vehicles: that’s 9 million in Europe alone.
All good? Not so fast. Even if automakers make their products legal, that won’t fix everything.
Political inaction is the real scandal. Governments have been supposed to punish carmakers for cheating since 2007 but so far, nothing has happened in Germany, even though it’s the leading nation for making cars. No-one’s ever suggested rescinding permits to make certain kinds of vehicles, though that would be a sure sign that politicians are serious when they make laws.
Cars will now be tested on the road as well as in the labs before they can be licensed. That's scary stuff for engineers.
Europe’s industry ministers have finally agreed to change the rules so carmakers face unannounced inspections, hefty fines, market monitoring and more stringent control of national regulators. Germany long opposed these measures.
Cars will now be tested on the road as well as in the labs before they can be licensed. That’s scary stuff for engineers. But this isn’t an industrial policy issue anymore – politics and industry have been trying to protect the climate for 25 years. But voluntary commitments haven’t helped bring down emissions levels; instead they’re rising, not only because more cars are licensed but also because vehicles are becoming heavier and heavier, their engines bigger and bigger.
Carmakers say that’s what consumers want but I’m not convinced. After this fall’s election at the latest, the question of mobility and a transition in transportation will have to be raised. For the car industry, that’s the stuff of nightmares – it reminds them of the switch to green energy, so far a dismal failure.
But politicians could stop carmakers from selling as many combustion engines as now. So in the meantime, automakers should take the lead and offer vehicles with lower fuel consumption. That would buy them time to save diesels and come up with new technologies.
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