2015 Volkswagen Golf TDI driven to all 48 contiguous states with just $300 of fuelEnlarge Photo
The full impact of Volkswagen's diesel-emission cheating scandal has yet to be realized, but what it has apparently already admitted to doing could result in the largest civil fine ever levied by the Federal government on an automaker.
And that's just the beginning.
Besides paying civil penalties, and coping with a spate of criminal actions, and class-action lawsuits, and investigations by multiple levels of government, VW also needs to deal with the 482,000 cars it sold--plus more in limbo at dealers--that clearly do not comply with emission laws.
In real-world use, these vehicles emit 10 to 35 times the allowable legal limit of certain pollutants, so they're not just slightly out of compliance. They will need to be modified to comply, or VW will have to buy them back.
And if owners don't like the modified cars, they'll likely have to buy those cars back too.
After all that, VW has to figure out how to regain the trust of the public.
2014 Volkswagen Passat TDIEnlarge Photo
There are lots of aspects to this debacle, and all will undoubtedly be discussed ad nauseam over the coming weeks. But the aspect I find most interesting is how Volkswagen can best right the wrongs it has done.
How does paying fines, settling lawsuits, and bringing highly-polluting vehicles into compliance really undo the damage done?
It doesn't. All it does is punish Volkswagen. And I believe the public deserves more.
Make no mistake: If VW is guilty as charged, it absolutely deserves to be punished--and severely.
But I hope the Justice Department also considers what can be done to offset the damage to air quality created by the offending so-called "clean diesels." And I hope VW, separately, does the same.
We've seen penalty estimates as high as $18 billion dollars (the maximum allowed of $37,500 per vehicle) for intentionally violating the Clean Air Act. I doubt the actual penalty will be anywhere close to that, but it will likely be in the billions.
I think it's not unreasonable to expect the fine to be somewhere around $2.5 billion, or about $5,000 per non-compliant vehicle sold.
Why not use a portion of that civil fine to invest in a nationwide DC Fast Charge network for electric vehicles?
Nissan Leaf electric car with eVgo quick charging station. [courtesy eVgo]Enlarge Photo
If just half of a $2.5 billion fine were dedicated to this purpose, we could blanket the majority of Interstate highways and major high-traffic corridors with DC fast chargers that would make switching from gasoline and diesel cars to zero-emission electric vehicles a much easier decision for many buyers.
Here's why I believe that is what should be done.
Helping to advance the proliferation of cleaner electric vehicles would, over time, more than reverse the emissions damage that has been done, and further improve the quality of air we breathe, instead of just punishing the offender.
And shouldn't that be the goal here?