The shocking emission-control rigging scandal at Volkswagen has probably killed "clean diesel" for passenger vehicles, or at least, it has severely wounded the idea. It will take a long time before people trust VW again, especially when it comes to claims of environmental friendliness.
The question going forward now is: What will the company's strategy be when it comes to green(er) cars?
The German company had put a lot of its eggs in the diesel basket, but thankfully in the past few years they had started to diversify a bit more into plug-in vehicles. The Electric Golf hasn't be setting the world on fire with only about 3,100 sales in 2015 so far, but at least it's a foundation on which the company could build.
If it decided to put its weight behind EVs, VW could no doubt expand the distribution of the e-Golf to all markets and reduce the price through economies of scale. It should also work on boosting driving range over the next couple of years, because every other EV is on the cusp of a generation transition that will hopefully bring driving range closer to 200 miles.
But if VW wants to restore its image and catch up to those who have been making big investments in EVs for along time (traditional automakers like GM and Nissan, but also pure-play upstarts like Tesla), it can't just dip its toe in the water.
They need to figure out a bold strategy and bet big. They can't just convert an existing model and create some nice low-volume plug-in "show cars" at their luxury divisions (Porsche, Audi), or great engineering feats that never get truy commercialized, like the 1-Liter Car (pictured above). Ideally they would invest in a brand new model that is designed to be electric from the ground up, to avoid the compromises you face when you take a platform that was designed for the internal combustion engine and make it electric. Something Jetta or Passat-sized with 200 miles of range, sold in all the major markets.
But if they won't build an EV from the ground up, even just making sure the e-Golf is rapidly improved and available everywhere, as well as make electric versions of some of their other models (the Jetta would be a good one), would be a big step in the right direction.
That would have some real appeal and could move the needle at the company! If they do a really good job, maybe over time some of us will even forgive them for all the extra air pollution that we've been breathing because of their emission-rigging...