Shame on Volkswagen

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Shame on Volkswagen

“Were we deceived because we really didn’t know?” I thought when the Volkswagen emissions scandal was revealed. We all remember that German carmakers, including Volkswagen, promoted the “clean diesel” technology in the mid-2000s. European automobile companies introduced diesel cars in Korea with aggressive marketing campaigns.

Diesel cars had a bad image at the time, as Koreans remember diesel-powered buses that produced exhaust fumes. Did they really have clean diesel? It is common sense that diesel has better fuel efficiency and power than gasoline and produces less carbon dioxide but also emits nitric acid and fine dust, which the World Health Organization classified as Group 1 carcinogens. If anyone raises a question how diesel can be clean, automakers refuted by presenting various test results proving how clean diesel engines can be. They argued that world-class German automobile technology accomplished complete combustion of fuel while controlling exhaust fumes, and Europe’s shift to diesel engines proves the reliability of clean diesel technology.

In fact, since the mid-1990s, EU members presented various policies encouraging diesel engines, offering lower tax rates or long-term tax benefits. Diesel cars had been a small portion in European market until the early ’90s, but today 35 percent of the cars in the EU have diesel engines. Perhaps, we abandoned common sense as we were blinded by the prestige of German technology and environmentally friendly Europe.

Some mention the reflected advantage for Hyundai Motors. But just as the cold reaction of the stock market shows, the crisis won’t bring any benefits to Korean carmakers that aggressively introduced diesel models. If the diesel technology is abandoned altogether, Korean carmakers will also suffer. As Volkswagen’s diesel cars have been revealed to produce pollution on the road while test results were manipulated, and the investigation is expanding to all diesel models, some already switched over to alternative of electric cars as the true clean vehicles. Some researches show that the electric cars have little effect in improving the air quality when the pollution from the process of power generation was taken into account. Also, the electric cars are equipped with large-capacity batteries, which need to be replaced after reaching certain charging cycles. The batteries are composed of various materials including lithium, and commercialization of electric cars would lead to pollution from battery waste.

In the end, there is no completely clean vehicle. An American automobile magazine featured a confession from a former Volkswagen executive that a clean diesel engine at a reasonable price was an unrealistic goal. When there is no fuel-powered vehicle that benefits the environment, the company fabricated that it could be overcome by technology to mitigate the guilt of pollution, and consumers and the carmakers spread the myth of a clean car. Perhaps, we had reasonable doubts that clean diesel didn’t make sense. But we may have turned blind eye to drive a powerful, efficient and brand-name German car and claim to be environmentally friendly at the same time. As we condemn Volkswagen’s dishonesty, we also need to reflect on our consumer awareness.

*The author is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo. JoongAng Ilbo, Sept. 30, Page 26


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