How to use $2 billion VW diesel fine for electric-car charging: advocate offers advice

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2014 BMW i3 REx fast-charging at Chargepoint site, June 2016 [photo: Tom Moloughney]

2014 BMW i3 REx fast-charging at Chargepoint site, June 2016 [photo: Tom Moloughney]

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The Volkswagen diesel emission scandal erupted last September, when the EPA formally issued a Notice of Violation to one of the world's three largest automakers for willfully violating U.S. emission laws for seven years.

Since then, much speculation has appeared over what forms of punishment VW would face and how much it would have to pay.

We now have a number, and it’s even higher than many expected.

DON'T MISS: VW diesel settlement details: buybacks, payments, modifications, fines, more

The Volkswagen Group has agreed to pay up to $14.7 billion for intentionally deceiving the public and selling vehicles that emit up to 40 times the legal limit of certain pollutants.

The penalty has three parts:

  • Buybacks and financial settlements to owners of 466,000 affected vehicles: $10.0 billion
  • Compensation for the illegal cars' environmental impact: $2.7 billion
  • Fund new infrastructure and access for zero-emission vehicles: $2.0 billion

2012 Volkswagen Passat TDI Six-Month Road Test

2012 Volkswagen Passat TDI Six-Month Road Test

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When the story first broke last year,  I couldn’t help but wonder how a portion of the fines could be used to help offset the damage these heavily-polluting vehicles had done to our air quality.

If at least some portion of the ultimate settlement wasn’t directly used to encourage the transition to zero-emission vehicles, I feared we would have missed a golden opportunity.

Fortunately, that wasn’t the case.

ALSO SEE: How VW Can Atone For Diesel Deception: Electric-Car Advocate's Thoughts (Sep 2015)

As part of the settlement, the VW Group will provide $2 billion over 10 years to fund infrastructure for zero-emission vehicles (both electric-vehicle charging and hydrogen fueling stations).

It will also fund consumer-awareness campaigns, and invest in car-sharing programs that will increase access to zero-emission vehicles.

The State of California will get 40 percent of these funds, or $800 million—$200 million every two and a half years—with the remaining $1.2 billion allocated to similar programs in other parts of the country.

EVgo DC fast-charging site in Fremont, California

EVgo DC fast-charging site in Fremont, California

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This was exactly what I hoped would happen when I wrote an article on this site last September that suggested how Volkswagen could atone for its diesel deception.

I didn't include allocating some of the money to hydrogen fueling stations. But that part of the settlement isn't surprising, considering California’s recent stance on supporting the hydrogen fuel-cell industry.

Now that we know there will be funds for electric-vehicle infrastructure, the next questions are how the money will be used—and what bodies will oversee the implementation.

CHECK OUT: Electric-Car Charging Network Ecotality Files For Bankruptcy (Sep 2013)

It’s essential to have a cohesive plan, to install robust and well-proven equipment, and ensure that project leaders understand the needs of both users and the auto industry.

Learn from history

Simply trying to install as many charging stations in as many locations as possible, as quickly as possible, isn't sufficient—as the $100 million provided to Ecotality five years ago demonstrated.

ECOtality Blink charging station for electric & plug-in cars

ECOtality Blink charging station for electric & plug-in cars

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The inferior hardware used in that project, as well as poor customer support, spelled doom for Ecotality. It filed for bankruptcy just four years after receiving its grant.

In my previous article, I proposed using money from the civil fine to install a comprehensive national network of high-speed DC fast chargers.

What Tesla Motors has done in a few short years to implement a nationwide (and increasingly global) Supercharger network underscores that it’s not an impossible task.

Why not start by trying to strike a deal with Tesla to install CCS and CHAdeMO fast-charging stations at existing Tesla Supercharger sites? I’d even see if Tesla is interested in bidding on the entire project, from installation to management of the sites.

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