Ethical Performance
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Driving a wedge between consumers and green debate

October 2015

As if it wasn’t hard enough convincing consumers to become greener drivers – stop that idling engine while you close the garage doors, slow down using your gears only fool! – the world and his wife have now been slapped in the face by one of the automobile industry’s greatest marques.

Unless you’ve been on a NASA mission lately, you can’t have failed to read about the Volkswagen emissions scandal. At the time of writing, it is turning into one of the biggest corporate scandals of my lifetime.

The German carmaker has recalled 482,000 VW and Audi brand cars in the US after the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) found models with Type EA 189 engines had been fitted with a device designed to reduce emissions of nitrous oxides (NOx) under testing conditions.

I am amazed at how this sneaky technology was ever approved. Why would anyone at one of the biggest car brands in world actually dream up this idea of a device to fool the existing controls in place in the US? That is some serious deviancy. And was this con swung with the knowledge and complicity of the directors or senior execs? That would compound the sin.

But do you know what the silver lining is to this sorry tale? It’s that the emissions story has been on the front pages of every single major newspaper across the world. It will have registered with people who may never, up until now, have engaged in the whole debate. 

Volkswagen’s rigging of emissions tests for 11m cars means they may be responsible for nearly 1m tonnes of air pollution every year, roughly the same as the UK’s combined emissions for all power stations, vehicles, industry and agriculture, a Guardian analysis suggests. The newspaper says those US vehicles would have spewed between 10,392 and 41,571 tonnes of toxic gas into the air each year, if they had covered the average annual US mileage. (If they had complied with EPA standards, they would have emitted just 1,039 tonnes of NOx each year in total.)

It may be information like this – the harmful effects of NOx which may bring about greater change in consumer attitudes.

Indeed, commenting on the VW emissions scandal Huw Irranca-Davies MP, chair of the Environmental Audit Committee, said: “In the light of the revelations over VW in the US, customers here in the UK and across the EU need and deserve urgent reassurance that they have not been deceived by VW or other automotive manufacturers.

“But this is not simply an issue of customers being deceived. Air pollution from dangerous emissions in diesel vehicles is linked to thousands of deaths in the UK each year. We need to know from our government that the reported vehicle emissions in the UK are accurate, that no deception similar to that in the US has taken place, and that our emissions-testing regime is rigorous and secure.”

The debacle may actually help in the battle to clean up the air in our city centres by introducing a network of low emission zones. The impact of poor air quality on health and mortality is already a scandal in the UK and in many of our major cities, and emissions from diesel vehicles are the prime culprit.

Global | Emissions


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