Elon Musk, Experts: A Zero-Emissions Vehicle Should Be VW’s ‘Punishment’

Elon Musk and a few dozen of his tech cohorts think they know how to solve the crisis posed by the Volkswagen emissions scandal: Make the automaker come up with a truly zero-emissions model.

Don’t penalize Volkswagen with hefty fines and recalls that may not be pursued by consumers, the group argues, but compel the company apply the technology and expertise it’s gained over the past decade to come up with a car that can revolutionize the auto industry.

Last week the consortium of tech leaders, which included heads of companies like SolarCity, Ceres and the Sierra Club, called on the California Air Resources Board (CARB) to adopt an innovative approach to VW’s admitted use of software that could undermine emission inspections.

“The VW emissions scandal is mainly the result of physics meeting fiction,” says the consortium, which points out that even if Volkswagen is required to recall the affected vehicles, “[drivers] won’t come in for a fix that compromises performance.” What is needed isn’t more lost revenue, but more productive data (and maybe even a wholly emissions-free car) that steers the planet toward lowering greenhouse gases.

“‘[Cure] the air, not the cars,’” they continue, “and reap multiples of what damage has been caused while strongly advancing California’s interests in transitioning to zero emission vehicles.”

To do this, the group offered a five-step plan:

  • Release VW of its requirement to fix those vehicles already on the road in California. That number is relatively insignificant to the actual vehicle emission levels in the state.
  • Require VW to “accelerate greatly its rollout of zero emission vehicles.” The authors suggest that they “present zero opportunities for cheating,” and therefore won’t cost the state added overhead to enforce.
  • Set aggressive expectations for that roll-out, with a 10 to one reduction in emissions over a five-year period.
    Use VW’s previous  “diesel cheating” vehicles as the comparison bar for those new standards.
  • Make the company invest in new factories and research facilities, a goal that VW has stated it is already working to accomplish. Only, require the company to invest those dollars in facilities in California, where it will create more jobs. The money that would be spent on penalties, the group argues, can be better spent developing California-based technology.
  • Allow the company to have a say in the timing by allowing zero emission credits to be applied to the endeavor.

The group points out that the idea isn’t exactly new: In the 1990s, the Justice Department and the Environmental Protection Agency went after diesel truck manufacturers’ deceptive behaviors by requiring the companies to conform to new, accelerated standards. Requiring VW to use its technology to develop a truly zero-emissions vehicle is ultimately a win-win for California as well as consumers.

This isn’t the first time that Musk has spoken up on the VW scandal. In September, he challenged agencies to implement random emissions testing, with the observation that the world has “reached the limit of what’s possible with diesel and gasoline.” What is needed now is a new form of technology that can move past these challenges.

CARB has not yet offered a response to the proposal. The agency is due to issue a ruling on VW’s proposed plan to recall vehicles containing the deceptive software by Jan. 14. With the current increasing demand for more resourceful answers to California’s environmental challenges, it will be interesting to see what steps California’s leading environmental agency opts to take for the new year.

Image: Flickr/Blowing Puffer Fish