In a policy guideline on the Volkswagen scandal in which the world’s largest car manufacturer admitted to cheating United States emissions tests by using fraudulently-programmed software, the FIA (International Automobile Federation) asks rhetorically whether the case presages the end of diesel technology.
“Regardless of which technologies are considered to reach worldwide emissions reduction goals, there is a general agreement that most emissions reductions by the year 2050 will be achieved by improving the Internal Combustion Engine [ICE],” the FIA stated. “It is crucial to strengthen emission control on ICE, while simultaneously looking at new low-carbon technologies to retain significant market shares and consumer confidence.”
The Paris-based federation of 237 motoring clubs from 142 countries (including the Philippines, where the Automobile Association Philippines is the country’s only FIA member) acknowledges that on a global scale, only one out of every seven cars sold is diesel-fueled. But in the European Union, that share reaches 50 percent on the average.
The problem is that in Europe, diesel cars have been marketed as a low-carbon and cheap alternative to gasoline, the FIA noted. “Over the last 15 to 20 years, consumers embraced the technology, believing they were more environmentally friendly, and under the promise of saving on pump prices.”
“Now, after several years and the evidence that diesel cars emit tiny particles of dust [parts per million 2.5 and PM 10]and nitrogen dioxide [NO2], which are dangerous for the health, many cities started considering banning diesel vehicles from city centers to meet air quality legislation,” it said.
“The new VW case now coming to light will for sure put diesel technology under additional pressure,” the FIA concluded.
That may be the situation in Europe, but not in the Philippines where the Euro2 emissions standard allows 500 parts per million (ppm) of harmful smog-forming pollutants. As expected, Volkswagen Philippines has released a press statement declaring that all the vehicles it sells here do not have the tricky software and that they all comply with the Euro4 (50 ppm) standard, which takes effect starting January 1, 2016.
Euro4 was phased out in Europe six years ago in 2009, which shows how backward we are in air quality legislation. Given the unreliable and dubious emissions testing facilities here, the lax [if any]enforcement of the Clean Air Act of 1999 and the subsidized pump price of diesel fuel that makes it at least P5 cheaper per liter than unleaded gasoline, the Volkswagen emissions scandal involving 11 million of its vehicles worldwide will not affect the sales of diesel vehicles in the Philippines.
Still, all the rationalizations in the world cannot repair the damage done to the global reputation of not only Volkswagen but also German engineering and the “Made in Germany” brand. VW’s new chief executive, Matthew Muller, has promised to “do everything to bring back the trust of our customers, our employees, our partners, investors and the whole public.” Let’s hope that his promise is not too little, too late.