Auto Tech

Elon Musk, other green investors want Volkswagen to pay it forward

Instead of focusing on fixing the past, this coalition is asking the California Air Resources Board to force VW to take a walk down to Electric Avenue and speed up future tech developments.

Volkswagen has already worked to speed up its electric-car development following the Dieselgate debacle. This all-electric Microbus concept will be at CES in January.

Fines and recalls might seem like a good idea for Volkswagen, in the wake of the Dieselgate scandal, but one group believes that this is actually a counterproductive measure. Tesla Motors CEO Elon Musk and a number of other green investors are calling upon the California Air Resources Board to stop fixating on the past and use this as an opportunity to focus on zero-emissions vehicles.

"We, the undersigned, instead encourage the CARB to show leadership in directing VW to 'cure the air, not the cars' and reap multiples of what damage has been caused while strongly advancing California's interests in transitioning to zero emission vehicles (ZEVs)," the letter reads.

This plea includes a five-part plan to help VW "pay it forward." The first step is releasing the automaker from its obligation to fix the cars currently on the road. The next two steps involve accelerating Volkswagen's zero-emissions programs, including electric cars, as they say that would have a more profound environmental impact than a recall that many owners may not even follow.

The fourth step is by far the most interesting. In lieu of whatever share of fines California would receive, Volkswagen should use that money to invest in plants or R&D facilities inside the state's borders. Thus, the money that would otherwise land in a government coffer would go toward creating jobs and, once again, introducing ZEVs as quickly as possible. As the letter notes, an automaker can't cheat its way to zero emissions.

The final step allows Volkswagen a bit of flexibility in how it reaches this goal, including purchasing ZEV credits from other automakers. The group claims there is a precedent for this kind of action -- following a diesel-truck scandal in 1990, instead of issuing a recall, the government accelerated its timetable for rolling out stricter emissions targets.

Volkswagen is already doing some of this on its own. Following its admission of wrongdoing, the automaker promised to speed up its electric-vehicle development. We'll see two new electric cars from VW in the near future: its Microbus concept at CES, and the electric flagship Phaeton after that.