Fraud that goes beyond diesel

 No wonder that a number of customers are demanding not only answers but compensation over the recent emissions scandal

The VW saga goes way beyond the question of whether diesel damages our health or not.

It all has the semblance of a saga of deception. Which begs a number of questions, that go beyond one specific car-maker.

Why were certain companies opposed to US fuel efficiency rules? Why did certain lobbying coincide with some of certain manufacturers’ diesel vehicles breaching emission limits? Why was the point always made that certain tests and targets gave insufficient credit to diesel technology?

Such opposition did not surface yesterday. It has been evident since 2011 at the latest.

Those who tried to tighten the noose like the US national traffic safety administration were apparently depicted as being insufficiently helpful to manufacturers of small passenger cars. Whether this was done by design or not still has to be determined.

Whoever opposed was perceived as doing little to encourage the spread of fuel efficient clean diesels that could reduce vehicles’ CO2 emissions.

Like all ministers, I have been receiving letters from the chairperson of a certain company’s board of management. But I believe that there is a collective responsibility that needs to be shared. And this must also be done at an institutional level, including at EU level too.

No wonder a number of EU members stated are insisting and urging the swift introduction of real driving tests that are widely known to stamp out the sophisticated cheating carried out so far by certain companies in laboratory tests.

The environmental dimension needs to be clearly assessed and highlighted they said, and I personally could not but agree more. The case could have a direct bearing on the total emissions of any country, and might even have an impact on efforts by all EU member states to fulfil their emission obligations and even meet air quality standards in the EU.

It was good that there has been a mandatory recall of all types of cars of a certain brand ordered by national competent authorities.

But it is time to address the big picture. No wonder that a number of customers are demanding not only answers but compensation over the recent emissions scandal. Equally understandable is that a multi-billion shareholders’ suit looms on the horizon, possibly by way of class action.

People are worrying about various factors – the true and real environmental impact of their car, the impact of this saga on its resale value and fear that even the performance of their vehicle could be affected. 

Most buyers had done so because they were duped into believing that fuel efficiency was the key as well as that their ‘choice’ seemingly had limited environmental impact.

While plans seem to be ahead to toughen vehicle emissions rules. we cannot exclude that such attempts will and might face uphill climbs. We all need to decide over how soon and how hard certain new rules should bite. Logic would dictate that there should be speedy implementation of any new rules particularly following certain recent new disclosures.

How can one expect to convince customers and earn their trust and confidence anew unless we really show our commitment to improve the real life driving emissions rules? One can understand certain carmakers’ urging for new emissions limits to be delayed. But ultimately environmental health considerations should prevail.

We wish all industries, including the German car-making industry well and equally welcome reports that it is likely to survive the present crisis. What cannot be tolerated or easily forgotten or forgiven is that there has been large-scale deception over the years that fits a pattern of carmakers cynically exploiting lax emissions tests. We cannot return to business as usual by deciding to either do nothing or postpone certain decisions. That would be tantamount to adopting the same approach as in the case of BP in the Gulf and Shell in Nigeria.

We cannot exclude that even certain governments might try to duck as they could also be complicit. But there are plenty of things they can do. So let us make sure that they do them. Firmly, promptly and without any further hesitation.

Let us just hope that we are not just scratching the surface.

A word of praise to those who uncovered the scandal, mainly the NGO International Council on Clean Transportation, as well as an appeal to the authorities concerned world-wide to explain in graphic detail what the real and true impact of such pollutants amounts to.

Ultimately what people are asking is how will all this affect us all.

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