The Legacy of Volkswagen Clean Diesel

The Legacy of Volkswagen Clean Diesel

What Clean Diesel Is & What It Is Not

As I write this, the public Volkswagen TDI debacle is just beginning. The federal Environmental Protection Agency and California’s Air Resources Board have presented their cases that Volkswagen AG (the parent of Volkswagen and Audi, among others) installed software that defeated the purpose of its emissions control equipment except when it was being tested for emissions. The ramifications remain to be seen, but certainly involve some kind of emissions updates to almost 500,000 2009-15 TDIs now on the road. It can be expected that a hefty fine will be levied against VW, which is the world’s largest automaker.

2015 VW,Jetta TDI, badge

A badge of honor?

It also can be expected that the term “clean diesel” will be tarnished, since that is one that VW and other automakers have taken great pains to reinforce for the past several years. That is where Clean Fleet Report has its biggest concern. Volkswagen clean diesel may have become an oxymoron, but we do not believe that is a broad brush that should paint all diesels. Maybe even VW diesels. After all, with the software’s permission, the vehicles did meet the stringent emissions standards of the U.S., which were set so diesels would be available to drivers in all 50 states (California regulations had kept them out for several years). The problem, of course, is that they did not meet those standards in normal driving modes, instead emitting 10-40 times the regulated limit.

At Clean Fleet Report we believe diesels can be clean, both in the certifications submitted to the regulatory agencies and in their daily operation. We also believe that any compromises in performance or fuel economy due to meeting emissions regulations are something consumers will deal with. For those of us old enough to remember diesel’s (which was not clean diesel) first foray into the U.S. market in the 1980s, compromises were part of the bargain. Maybe too big of a part of the bargain. Of course, gasoline cars of the time were far from no-compromise vehicles as well. We’ve come a long way since then and have every right to expect cars and trucks that deliver on all fronts–fuel economy, performance and emissions. Not all technologies are going to be equal and all have a place. Electric vehicles, as wonderful as they are, are far from zero emission vehicles when their electricity comes from coal, to give one example. Fuel cell electric cars offer a great replacement for our expectations of a gasoline/diesel vehicle replacement, until it comes time to find a refueling station, to offer another. That doesn’t make them bad technologies.

We’ll have more to say once we have more information on both the research into what happened, what will be done to correct the vehicles’ software and what impact this might have on our earlier

chevy,cruze,diesel,clean diesel, turbodiesel

Chevy Cruze Diesel

impressions. We will probably reserve judgement on any public pronouncements until our staff has a chance to drive the updated cars and calibrate our response. Suffice it to say, from my personal perspective, slightly less responsive performance and a slightly less fuel efficient vehicle will not change my overall impression of the value of a compression ignition engine. But my feelings of trust of Volkswagen may take longer to heal.

More to come.

Related Stories You Might Enjoy:

Clean Diesel vs. Hybrid: Which Is Best For You?

Road Test: 2014 Chevrolet Cruze Clean Turbodiesel

Road Test: 2015 Volkswagen Golf TDI

Road Test: 2015 Volkswagen Jetta TDI


Clean Fleet Report staff have worked for in the past and retain close relations with Volkswagen and other companies and organizations in the diesel industry. The views expressed here are the personal ones of the author related to this issue.