EU’s ‘engine’ stalls in Volkswagen scandal

UEA expert alert – Dr Konstantinos Chalvatzis: EU’s ‘engine’ stalls in Volkswagen scandal

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

vw-golf-tdi-diesel-2009-001.jpg.650x0_q70_crop-smartPlummeting consumer confidence in diesel cars will benefit hybrid and electric vehicle sales, according to an expert in energy technology at the University of East Anglia (UEA).

Dr Konstantinos Chalvatzis, a senior lecturer in business and climate change at UEA’s Norwich Business School, said the fallout from the Volkswagen emissions testing scandal will cause a lack of faith in diesel engines, “which has been earned over the past decade in Europe.”

Dr Chalvatzis said: “It is important to consider the environmental angle since this is really a scandal about vehicle emissions that will impact the debates about diesel/petrol and electric mobility.

“While in the past diesel engines were valued for their dependability and modest consumption, during the last decade they have grown to be very powerful and at the same time very efficient. This claim is now in doubt and this will be a huge advantage for manufacturers that have invested in hybrid and electric vehicles.

“The timing is also quite crucial at a time when numerous European cities, including many in the UK, have started looking into ways to discourage diesel vehicles. The VW scandal will only give them new arguments.

“VW has secured sales in a very aggressive market by providing false emissions and consumption data and putting its vehicles at an unfair advantage over those of competitor manufacturers. It is safe to say that other manufacturers will be looking into their legal options on this issue, including requesting compensation for lost profits.”

With other German auto makers – including VW Group’s Audi, Porsche, Seat and Skoda – feeling the knock-on effect, Dr Chalvatzis said the scandal could dent the country’s reputation for reliability and dependability.

“The German automotive industry provides directly and indirectly no less than 20 per cent of the German industrial income. Germany is arguably the ‘engine’ of the EU economy and any impact on Germany exports can damage the EU economy as well. For the UK, there will possibly be winners in competitive manufacturers.”

Dr Chalvatzis said VW will need to pay approximately $18 billion in fines – and that’s “without estimating compensation costs for consumers and other litigation costs from other manufacturers.

“The automotive industry should for sure be braced for heavier regulations, especially with regards to the way issues of air pollution and fuel consumption are being monitored and controlled. Some manufacturers, particularly Japanese, may stand to win customers, especially if they have not relied as heavily in diesel sales.”

Dr Chalvatzis, who is UEA’s representative to the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research, is also a visiting scholar at the University of Maryland, USA. He is interested in energy technology and industrial innovation, including transport, and the impact on business and the environment.

I must say that I do not share the take on electric and hybrid cars being the future, in any way, shape or form, and also the fact that this “cheating” by VW has come to light only just at this time – while it, apparently, has been going on for some time – when VW, against the US' insistence, nay demand, for EU sanctions against Russia, has just opened a new engine factory in Russia points to a far different reason for this. And this reason being a kind of punishment for the German economy by the regime in Washington, especially that, apparently, BMW is also being implicated now, which looks as if some more candidates are actually being used.

Back to the electric (and hybrid) cars, however, and my reason for believing that they will not represent the answer in regards to personal transportation – and yes, I have mentioned this many times before but it would appear that it needs repeating – is the fact that the batteries require rare earth for the production which, well, as the name suggests, are rare and their extraction causes serious environmental damage. And that is aside from the price of those batteries. The story might be a different one if one would use, but the weight is a problem here, lead acid deep cycle batteries.

The car, in whichever engine form, is about to become history, do not be deceived, and we will have to look at other, older ways, again, for personal transportation, and this will be good for our health and that of the Planet, and in more ways than just eliminating any pollution caused by them, whether in driving or manufacture of the cars or their components. Admittedly the manufacture of bicycles also comes with an environmental footprint but it is far smaller than that of making cars, especially those whose batteries require rare earths and metals. In addition to that human-powered transportation in use, such as the bicycle, does not generate emissions and pollutants.

The dream of personal motoring which we have lived for almost a century now is coming to an end and not just because of the unsustainability of the the car, whether powered by an internal combustion engine or other means. Electric cars, due to their components, the raw materials for which are becoming rarer and rarer, will not become cheaper but dearer and, let's face it, also in many countries where on-street parking is the norm the charging of them overnight is not going to be a feasibility and thus those cars simply cannot replace the way we do things now.

The simple though for many unpalatable truth is that personal transportation of the future will be very much that of the past and we better get used to that idea and that rather quickly and adapt to it accordingly.

© 2015