Riding Volks into the sunset? – by Terence Corcoran (National Post – September 24, 2015)

The National Post is Canada’s second largest national paper.

Poor old VW, caught in the giant pincers of the U.S. regulatory machine that keeps closing in on car markers and car drivers in the name of the climate and the environment. Volkswagen, whose Golf series won the 2015 Motor Trend Car of the Year award at the annual Green Car Congress for Sustainable Mobility, had diesel vehicles that beat the competition on fuel economy and carbon emissions.

As the Motor Trend judges put it, the VW Golf series has “low fuel consumption and carbon footprint, relative to the vehicle’s competitive set.”

But it now looks like the Golf and other VW diesel models have trouble meeting the toughest of the many U.S. emissions targets, the one for nitrous oxide. To get around this little problem, some collection of numbskulls at the global German auto giant decided they could to a little tweak of the on-board computer systems that would have the effect of producing a lower-than-actual reading of nitrous oxide emissions when undergoing official tests.

There may be a bigger issue here too. Clive Crook, writing for Bloomberg News, sees the VW scandal as a broader indicator of a major Europe-wide automotive gamble on “clean diesel” engines.

Europe’s car makers, flying the banner of environmental virtue, committed themselves to the (diesel) strategy — and none more so than VW, which even attempted to bring it to the U.S. That, one might conclude, was its biggest mistake: U.S. regulators aren’t so understanding, and its government hasn’t bet the industry on diesel.

Europe, meanwhile, has an economically and environmentally misaligned car industry; a reputational crisis of unsurpassed scale centered on its biggest manufacturer; a NOx-induced public-health emergency in many of its cities; and quite possibly less than nothing to show for the effort when it comes to climate change. …. Europe’s clean-diesel strategy…may be the most expensive mistake in the history of environmental policy.”

For the rest of this column, click here: http://business.financialpost.com/fp-comment/terence-corcoran-riding-volks-into-the-sunset

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