The implications of the VW emissions scandal are far reaching: the health effects of NOx emissions, and the need to rectify the fault on millions of cars worldwide to name just two. It appears that the vehicles affected will never perform as promised in both emissions and fuel economy – even when they have been modified.
So what positives can we take from this?
Sales of ultra low emission vehicles (ULEVs) including hybrids and all-electric vehicles will surely be boosted. Sales were already showing strong growth in many countries including the UK (9,000 ULEVs were registered in Q1 this year) and their low emission credentials have been reinforced overnight as the goalposts have effectively been shifted.
Electric vehicles have many positives such as zero exhaust emissions, fewer moving parts, low running costs and good on the road performance. In the UK at the moment they are exempt from road tax, the congestion charge and eligible for a £5,000 grant.
Electric vehicles are more expensive to buy than conventional cars but this could soon change. Batteries are at the heart of an electric vehicle. They are normally the highest cost component, but the cost is predicted to reduce by 50% within five years. Already the Mitsubishi Outlander plug in hybrid is on the market for the same price as the diesel version (taking into consideration the £5,000 grant).
There are of course challenges, many of them related to charging. Currently it takes a lot longer to charge an electric vehicle than it does to fill up with petrol. Even the fastest charging stations will take around half an hour for a decent level of charge. There are signs that this will improve. Porsche recently unveiled the Mission E at the Frankfurt motor show which in fifteen minutes can be charged for a 250 mile journey.
The infrastructure required to deliver this rapid charging across the road network is extensive and satisfying the demand for charging stations as more electric vehicles use the road network will be a big challenge.
For electric vehicles to be sustainable the electricity used to charge them must be from renewable sources. In the UK the proportion of renewable energy generation continues to increase despite the frequent challenges it faces.
Electric vehicles will play a big part in the future of road transport. The VW scandal might just have moved that future a bit closer!