Volkswagen Dodges Carbon Dioxide Bullet

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Volkswagen has announced that a problem with its carbon dioxide emissions is far smaller than initially suspected, with further checks finding “slight discrepancies” in only a few models and no evidence of illegal changes to fuel consumption and emissions figures.

In a case that is separate from its scandal over cheating on U.S. emissions tests for the pollutant nitrogen oxide, Volkswagen said in November it had also found “unexplained inconsistencies” in the carbon dioxide emissions from up to 800,000 vehicles. However, it said that further internal investigations and measurement checks found that “almost all of these model variants do correspond to the CO2 figures originally determined.”

Slight deviations were found in nine variants of Volkswagen brand models with an annual production of some 36,000 cars, or 0.5% of the brand’s total production. Those deviations amount to “a few grams of CO2 on average.” The German car manufacturer initially said that issues with carbon dioxide emissions could cost it another 2 billion euros ($2.2 billion) on top of the costs incurred in the scandal over the nitrogen oxide emissions-cheating.

Germany’s Federal Motor Transport Authority ordered after Volkswagen’s announcement last month that the CO2 emissions of the models in question be measured anew, and the government said it was sticking to that.

Tesla’s Automatic Driving Capabilities Rolling Out

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“Autopilot” features such as steering and parking will be available for newer Tesla Model S sedans today, but CEO Elon Musk cautions that drivers should still keep ahold of the steering wheel. If the steering wheel has no hands on it during the automatic driving, a notice displaying “hold steering wheel” will illuminate on the dashboard. Also, in more difficult navigating conditions, an audio alert will come on and if that also is ignored, the car will slow and eventually stop.

Tesla, which this month unveiled its Model X SUV, has been the U.S. pioneer in luxury electric cars charged by batteries. Its expertise in software has made it a leader in self-driving features, which more traditional carmakers have been slower to develop. Musk estimated that within three years, cars will be able to drive “from your driveway to work without you touching anything,” but regulatory approval could take years. He added that regulators would need data showing that self-driving cars work.

 

Volkswagen Scandal Raises Questions of Clean Diesels

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As Volkswagen admitted that it had cheated on emissions testing of its “clean diesel” engines, it has tarnished the automaker’s reputation, while disrupting the entire industry and put diesel engines on trial in a country that was finally starting to embrace them. Volkswagen offered a diesel engine that had performance, good fuel economy, environmentally friendly and affordable enough to put in a small car.

Supporters of diesels have fought for decades to prove they can be clean and efficient alternatives for automobiles in the U.S. without giving up performance. And they were starting to gain ground largely because of VW’s heavily marketed clean-diesel technology that worked in a small car. It gave auto buyers environmental peace of mind.

The automaker has lost the trust of its customers in the U.S. and around the world. In the U.S., the Environmental Protection Agency discovered the existence of the illegal “defeat device” software, which VW installed on 500,000 vehicles in the U.S. to make its diesel engines appear to meet air quality standards when they really did not under regular driving conditions. In Germany, the government said 2.8 million vehicles sold in Germany also have the software.

In addition to the EPA probe, criminal investigations, lawsuits and other agency investigations are under way. The scandal continued to grow with Wednesday’s resignation of VW CEO Martin Winterkorn after the admission that 11 million vehicles globally have the defeat device software, prompting agencies around the world to start checking emission levels of Volkswagen vehicles. Other automakers who sell vehicles with diesels find themselves in agency crosshairs. The EPA now sees the need for industry-wide checks and is working on new tests to detect cheating.

Apple’s Auto Gamble Is Risky Business

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Apple may be taking a big risk by wading into the automobile market, but that it may be an essential one for a company that must keep moving forward or risk being left in the dust by competitors.

Rumors have the $700 billion company looking at getting into the automotive business, and that the company has already assembled a large team of experts to work on the project.

An “iCar” by 2020 may mesh well with the company’s core competencies of redefining everyday products such as music players, smartphones, and eventually watches. Apple may have decided that cars is the next logical place to go, and the company certainly has a lot of pressure to continue to take bold new steps, especially with developments by competitors such as Google creating their own self-driving cars.

It won’t be a decision to be taken lightly, and Apple certainly has time to back out. Former General Motors Vice Chairman Bob Lutz noted in the report that it would take enormous capital to launch an automotive product, and the industry typically doesn’t have big profit margins. It seemed strange to him that Apple would go into a business where, at best, Apple can expect a 5 or 6 percent margin, and in bad times, it will cost the company a great deal of money.

And it’s more than just the capital. There are a huge amount of state and regulatory obstacles to overcome, as well as global hurdles such as engineering a car to drive on the right-hand side. Most likely, Apple would jump into the electric car market, as Tesla has. It’s not clear whether it would also seek to go for automation as Google has.

Tesla may be an example of why Apple might want to think twice. The automaker has burned through lots of money in the past 10 years and have sold just 35,000 cars in the last year. Apple is not likely to be happy with similar figures.

What do you think? Would Apple fare well in this new endeavor?