VW scandal hits taxi plan

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VW scandal hits taxi plan

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The Volkswagen scandal has made consumers skeptical of the possibility of “clean diesel,” impacting both the domestic car market and government initiatives to introduce more diesel taxis nationwide.

The Ministry of Land, Infrastructure and Transport announced in December last year that the country will begin operating 10,000 diesel taxis nationwide starting this September. The ministry added that the government would give each taxi a subsidy of 345.54 won per liter of fuel purchased.

The so-called Happy Taxi Plan was one of President Park Geun-hye’s pledges during her presidential campaign in late 2012. She said adopting diesel taxis was necessary, particularly as the nation’s 280,000 taxi drivers were struggling with soaring LPG prices.

Since then, automakers and oil refiners have been aggressively marketing diesel as a truly environmentally friendly power source that creates fewer carbon dioxide emissions and is more efficient than gasoline.

But it’s now looking like the government’s initiative is on the road to nowhere.

“It is hard to say about the [diesel taxi] policy, though it started last month,” said a spokesman of the Transport Ministry on Monday in the condition of anonymity. “It is true that no diesel taxis were registered in the last month, and it looks like it might take more time due to the Volkswagen scandal.”

The adoption of diesel taxis was already controversial before the Volkswagen scandal. The National Institute of Environmental Research said in August that some imported diesel cars were found to produce about 7.5 times more nitrogen oxides than the national standards in its own independent emissions tests.

In a separate test conducted by the state-run researcher in June, some diesel cars that automakers said passed the Euro 6 standards were revealed to have produced 2.8 times more nitrogen oxides.

But the reports didn’t faze the public at the time, which was largely convinced by the “clean diesel” concept and wooed by the fuel’s high efficiency.

Local civic groups and even the Ministry of Environment, however, called for the diesel taxi plan to be reconsidered.

Since the December announcement, the Transport Ministry and local governments worried about possible pollution have been playing tug-of-war.

The Seoul Metropolitan Government said after the announcement that it would delay making the decision on the diesel taxi operation, and the move was followed by Daegu in August.

More civic groups and some government agencies excluding the Transport Ministry have been urging local governments not to run diesel taxis.

“Generally, taxis run about an average of 130,000 kilometers (80,778 miles) per year, which is about 8 to 10 times more than individuals drive,” said Song Sang-seok, secretary general civic group Green Transportation. “It doesn’t matter if a car passes a lab test or not - it generally produces much more [nitrogen oxide] in real driving conditions.

“As we have seen through the Volkswagen scandal, diesel cars should rely on an emission reduction device to lower emissions, but the possibility is high that such a device would break down more easily for taxis that run much longer distance than others. It is also questionable that taxi operators will repair such devices by spending their own money.”

The Transport Ministry has said the nation needs to diversify power sources for taxis, but it looks like that won’t be necessary for the time being - the average price of LPG in August, most preferred source by taxis, was 794 won per liter, the lowest since July 2009, according to Korea National Oil Corporation.

“There have been many arguments about diesel taxis, but the plan might be buried since people now know that diesel isn’t a clean source of fuel and doesn’t offer good fuel efficiency, all thanks to the Volkswagen scandal,” said a spokesman of the Environment Ministry.


BY KWON SANG-SOO [kwon.sangsoo@joongang.co.kr]
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