Following ‘Diesel-Gate’: What Are Other Car Manufacturers Doing To Be More Socially Responsible?

The revelations that the world’s biggest car maker, VW, falsified some of its diesel-engine car emission tests has thrown the whole future of diesel power in cars into turmoil.

The current emissions and fuel economy testing procedures have come into focus, and it’s already being suggested that manufacturers may well, to put it politely, bend the rules so their cars likely perform better in testing than in day-to-day driving conditions.

The VW scandal

The giant motor manufacturer – with marques such as Audi, Skoda and Seat in its stable – was found to have manipulated emission test results on certain of its diesel engines. Software incorporated in the cars in question detected when the car was under test conditions and adjusted settings so as to produce favourable emission readings.

This was found to have affected some eleven million cars, and VW is undertaking a huge recall process to adjust cars affected. It has earmarked some £4.7 billion to cover costs and, having admitted his company had “broken the trust of our customers and the public”, VW’s chief executive Martin Winterkorn resigned his position from the company.

What will the motor industry do?Cars

First off, certain other manufacturers have been swift to distance themselves from the VW scandal by stressing publicly they haven’t used similar ‘defeat devices’ to manipulate testing.

Emissions testing in the United States is more stringent than EU-defined testing for European cars, and it’s likely new and stricter emissions testing will be introduced. The SMMT (Society of Motor Manufactuers and Traders) admits the current testing method is “outdated” and it is seeking an agreement from the European Commission for new emissions testing that embraces new testing technology and is “more representative of on-road conditions”.

With the publicity and growing mistrust of current testing, car manufacturers will likely show a willingness to co-operate with more stringent testing to try to reassure customers and show they’re being socially responsible.

Diesel under fire

With the general backlash to diesel in recent times – it’s being shown to be less environmentally friendly than previously thought – sales were already slowing before the VW scandal, despite the huge investment by manufacturers in diesel technology in recent years.

This trend could be further entrenched and it is possible that many perks offered to diesel drivers – such as cut price tax for fuel efficient models – may be cut.

Swifter adoption of electric and hybrid cars

Manufacturers are likely to step up their development of electric-powered and hybrid cars. Progress is already noticeable, and most manufacturers have at least one hybrid on the market or on its way with a similar situation regarding electric cars.

It’s quite possible that learner drivers will be taking their tests in an all-electric or at least a hybrid car sooner rather than later. These models could become more mainstream and more affordable – meaning that first time or budget buyers are able to take this option. As more young people are also very eco-conscious, this could really boost the ratio of electric and hybrid vehicles on the roads. Car sharing and car hiring are also far more commonplace with Pay As You Go motoring becoming commonplace in our cities. Naturally, young people still have to pass their driving test even if they never actually own a car themselves and many learner drivers find passing the theory test more challenging than driving a car!

Marketing and PR messages

Much will depend on the public’s reaction. Manufacturers have already started with a PR offensive by assuring the public as to their probity, as mentioned earlier, and it’s highly likely that advertising marketing messages will focus on their diesel cars’ eco-friendliness on the back of ‘genuine’ emission results.

While practical steps, such as agreeing to more stringent emissions testing and development of alternative power for their cars will happen, in the very short term it’s likely to be up to the marketing and PR people to mount a ‘charm offensive’ to try to minimise the fall-out from the VW saga.

Article by Patrick Vernon on behalf of Top Tests.