31 Oct
Research from the EPA in the US has suggested that Volkswagen has been fitting emissions test cheat devices to many of its vehicles.

Does ‘Dieselgate’ mean it’s time to take alternative power seriously?

In perhaps one of the biggest automotive stories to surface over the last few years, German manufacturer Volkswagen has been accused of fitting devices to its diesel-powered vehicles that can effectively cheat emissions test.

The scandal began when the Environment Protection Agency (EPA) in the US discovered built-in software across many cars in the Volkswagen range that can mask the amount of nitrogen oxide emitted by the engine.

"Put simply, these cars contained software that turns off emissions controls when driving normally and turns them on when the car is undergoing an emissions test," explained EPA enforcement officer Cynthia Giles, as quoted by the Guardian.

Ultimately, Volkswagen has taken the blame and is now set to retrofit up to 11 million vehicles with the proper emissions tracking systems and software. What's happening here in New Zealand? Well, the Kiwi-based unit of Volkswagen is still waiting to hear whether it will have to recall any of the cars it has sold on these shores.

"We're in constant updates with Germany every night, as of this morning (September 29) we're still in a holding pattern…still waiting to see what implications are if any for [this country]," explained general manager of New Zealand Volkswagen Tom Ruddenklau, as noted by the New Zealand Herald.

Why are emission figures important?

Many people who have kept up to date with the developments in Germany may be wondering just what all the fuss is about. After all, can vehicle emissions really be that important? Well, many manufacturers across the automotive sector are looking at ways to become more sustainable over the long term.

Doing that is a case of improving the way vehicles are manufactured, as well as limiting the amount of pollutants they emit into the atmosphere. At the end-user level, many governments around the world offer tax breaks for more efficient vehicles.

For fleet managers looking to purchase a raft of cars, vans or trucks, the simple matter of the fact is that a vehicle with limited emissions is likely to be more cost effective than an inefficient equivalent.

EVs have been around in one form or another for several decades.

Time for a change?

Naturally, the amount of pollutants that come out of the exhaust of any given vehicle are directly linked to the burning of petrol or diesel. Even the most economically-minded driver, with fuel card in hand may not have any great effect on the amount of gas their vehicle emits.

Consequently, as the fallout from Volkswagen 'Dieselgate' continues, some quarters believe that now is the best time to explore the merits of electric vehicles (EVs) once again. While EVs may seem like a technology that still hasn't really hit the mainstream, they've been around in one form or another for several decades.

In fact, a Woods electric Queen Victoria Brougham electric car recently sold for over US$100,000, according to an article published by CNET. That may not sound especially remarkable, but this particular EV was produced way back in 1905.

Today, Tesla is one company that is exploring the boundaries of electric vehicle tech, and is aiming to really push it into the mainstream. Tesla's founder, Elon Musk, was recently asked about the ongoing tribulations of Volkswagen, and whether the wider public would now lose faith in green vehicle technologies.

"Well, I think it's more the opposite. What Volkswagen is really showing is that we've reached the limit of what's possible with diesel and gasoline. The time has come to move to a new generation of technology," Mr Musk said, as quoted by Gizmodo Australia.

Naturally, much of the focus on Volkswagen has shifted conversation onto whether internal combustion engines can be truly efficient. While that question may have a cloud over it due to the EPA's findings, only time will tell whether recent goings-on have had a significant impact on the widespread use of both petrol and diesel-powered vehicles.