The NOx emissions nightmare of Volkswagen keeps growing, while the pack of car manufacturers sit very tight. The scandal offers a positive getaway for everyone.

This chronicle was originally posted, in Norwegian, on NRK Ytring, Sunday 4th October 2015.

A serious approach to making electric cars with zero emissions is what´s needed everywhere, even though it was the German giant who got caught with pants down.

The American disclosure of Volkswagen´s cheating has worked as a wake-up call that should have historical impact on the commitment to zero emissions technology. 

Both the car manufacturers and the EU must pull themselves together and make emission free cars an option to a wide array of customers – not just Norwegians and a handful of other markets.

To put things into perspective: Today Volkswagen Group (2014) produce almost as many cars in a day as full-electric Tesla do throughout a year.

Hazardous exhausts

Most people really don´t think too much about the harmful substances from exhaust in their daily lives. But when travelling by foot or bicycle in city traffic, it´s striking. There´s no way to escape if you live in (sub)urban areas.

Ever more people are conscious about the dangers, amplified by the cheat news in recent weeks. If we are to keep our passenger vehicles in the future – to cover the needs walking, biking and public transport aren´t able to – we have only one practical and available option today.

The EV.

Large car manufacturers need to direct their attention – seriously – towards technology that eventually will bring emissions to zero. 

In the first instance to rebuild trust. In the second to create a better world for everyone. 

The Norwegian EV success

The Norwegian EV success story shows the world that customers both want and are very pleased with their electric vehicles. By the end of the year some 70,000 fully electric vehicles (BEV) will be registered in Norway. 

I hope ever more countries will follow the Norwegian example. This also means putting a high price on emissions. Such a policy gives leeway for the best alternative. Today, much of the world favors exhaust cars in terms of taxes. 

It´s a paradox all those countries have let this happen. Especially as it´s a very poorly hidden secret that exhaust cars have a far larger fuel consumption – and thereby harmful emissions – than the manufacturers specify.

Of course the false numbers also apply to electric vehicles measured by the same NEDC and EPA consumption cycles in Europe and the US. The difference is that the EV means zero harmful emissions simply because it has no tailpipe. 

The EV also has zero CO2 emissions running on renewable energy sources, as is the case in Norway.

Promoting electric vehicles

An electric motor is also three to four times more energy effective than an internal combustion engine (ICE).

Oil is not a renewable energy source. It also leads to major local emissions. By the dozens more than the manufacturers specify, actually. 

And still I haven´t mentioned the climate side (CO2) of the matter. It´s somewhat better for diesel than that of petrol.

But let´s not dwell too much on fossil fuels. Norsk elbilforening´s primary goal is after all promoting the electric vehicle, not talking negative about exhaust cars. 

Even so: It´s not unthinkable that a lack of further efficiency improvements to the ICE contributed to the emissions cheating by Volkswagen.

Positive wakeup

The good thing about this story, if any, is that the Volkswagen Group itself holds the solution to the problem: Pursue zero emissions on a much bigger scale. This could also eliminate common accusations of just making compliance cars. 

The company already has two battery electric vehicles (BEV) on the market, e-Golf and e-up!. Both have had great success in Norway, and this is of course noticed throughout the world. 

Rather than trying to save a sinking ship – the diesel engine – Volkswagen and the rest of the industry should turn their attention even more to ultra low and zero emission technology. The latter in particular.

As far as Volkswagen is concerned I think this is the best measure to regain credibility and trust on environmental issues. For other car manufacturers the same focus might be a way to avoid similar heavy drops when it comes to reputation.

Still it´s highly possible that we´ve just seen the tip of the iceberg

Ever heavier cars

The general challenge, facing the automotive industry, has been reducing fossil fuel consumption while modern cars have become ever heavier.

This is mostly caused by necessary active and passive safety equipment and loads of other more or less necessary options, compared to the simpler cars of the past. 

For instance: In 1979 a basic Volkswagen Golf weighed in at about 800 kilograms. 30-35 years later it had put on almost 500 kilograms of weight.

It goes without saying physical limitations manifest themselves: The mass needs to be moved, and that of course leads to consumption challenges.

The future is electric

Much of the reason why diesel has been preferred by many Europeans, is the higher energy efficiency pr. liter compared to petrol. CO2 emissions are lower, just as the fuel economy is better. But the NOx side of the matter has been one of ignorance – to both manufacturers, governments and customers.

Today it´s impossible to outrun this uncomfortable fact anymore. The EV wins in every possible way, except range. With increased market demand range is improving at a high pace.

The EV also has the most effective motor known today, with only a fraction of running cost (depending on country). It´s just a matter of doing the math.

If the car manufacturers are to survive in the longer run, it´s time to think new and clean. Volkswagen has had its very uncomfortable wake-up call. I don´t think more examples are needed to catch the point.

Christina Bu, secretary general, Norwegian EV Association

Twitter: @ChristinaBu_