Volkswagen AG wants federal and state regulators to do more to encourage fuel-efficient diesel vehicles.
“We’re not feeling the love,” said Anna Schneider, vice president for industry and government relations at VW Group of America, at a forum on the future of diesel vehicles held by the automaker’s luxury unit Audi. “This is one of the greenest choices… It’s time the U.S. government included clean diesel in its ‘all of the above’ strategy’ for greening U.S. roads. Putting these vehicles on the road should be incentivized and not penalized, and that’s our goal.”
Electric vehicles are eligible for federal and state tax credits, single-driver access to carpool lanes, free parking and other benefits. She noted that 15 states impose additional taxes on diesel — and federal diesel taxes are 6 cents higher than gasoline taxes. “When you’re going to the pump you have sticker shock.”
Federal regulators setting the 2012-2025 fuel economy standards to nearly double fleet wide requirements to 54.5 mpg didn’t give diesel vehicles additional credits, as VW and other automakers had lobbied for. The standards come as more automakers are selling diesel passenger cars, including General Motors Co., which launched a diesel Chevrolet Cruze in May in limited markets and will start sales nationwide this fall.
Schneider said allowing single-driver vehicles with diesels would cost the government nothing and “would be a huge boost to sales.” Other automotive technologies have hefty government tax incentives, including electric vehicles that qualify for up to $7,500 in tax credits.
She also called on the Environmental Protection Agency to revise how it calculates combined city-highway mileage, which is weighted 55 percent for city testing and 45 percent highway. She’d like to see those figures reversed to “reflect real-world driving.”
In explaining its decision in 2012, the EPA said it wasn’t going to give diesels additional credits toward meeting fuel economy requirements because the EPA doesn’t believe “diesel vehicles promote the commercialization of technologies” to transform the auto fleet by “achieving zero or near-zero (greenhouse gas) emissions and oil consumption.” It also said advanced diesels do not face “significant barriers” to consumer acceptance.”
Diesels are about 30 percent more fuel efficient than gasoline-powered vehicles, but because diesel has a higher carbon content than gasoline, the EPA says it only reduces overall carbon emissions by 7 to 20 percent compared to a similar gasoline-powered vehicle. “That’s one of the reasons EPA struggles with diesels going forward,” said Brett Smith, who studies advanced powertrains at the Center for Automotive Research and was part of the panel discussion.
VW says some of its new diesel engines have dramatically reduced carbon emissions. Schneider said diesels still have image problems.
“People think diesel is dirty and if you are driving down the highway and you’re behind a heavy-duty truck that has plumes of smoke behind it that isn’t helping our image at all,” Schneider said. She wants to send the message that diesel vehicles “are just as good as hybrids” in highway driving.