The emissions scandal engulfing Volkswagen, whose C.E.O., Martin Winterkorn, resigned this week, could be a boon for green technology. The cars were set to recognize when they were being tested and, if they were, to abruptly begin emitting far less nitrogen oxide than they would on the road. Winterkorns departure, though, will do little to relieve the pressure on Volkswagen, or to save it from the travails to come.
The headline on a 2008 BusinessWeek article summed up the pitch: “This Is Not Your Father’s Diesel.” Improvements in diesel technology had made it possible for diesel engines to run cleaner than ever before. But the assumption had been that there was a trade-off: making diesel cleaner would also lower a car’s fuel economy and/or its performance. Volkswagen promised customers that they didn’t have to make these trade-offs.
While the scandal is a disaster for Volkswagen, there’s a good chance it’ll end up being a boon for the environment, since the fallout from the controversy will hurt not just the company but also diesel technology itself.