Chalk one up for Greenpeace: VW commits to major environmental reforms
Although Volkswagen Group today presented its “go-ahead for fundamental ecological restructuring” and commitment to a 120g/km CO2 emissions by 2015 target as its own idea, it could also be seen as at least partially caving under pressure from Greenpeace.
The world’s largest environmental advocacy group has not so much demonized Europe’s largest automaker for opposing greenhouse gas legislation, as it has likened it to being in alliance with Darth Vader in its PR warfare portraying VW as the “Dark Side” and evil empire.
Playing off of the Star Wars theme, where humble earth dwellers are merely defending themselves from potential calamities like melting polar ice caps, Greenpeace has accumulated a list of over a half million people – of which 10 percent are said to be VW drivers – who oppose VW’s allegedly darkened ways.
“Our home—Earth—is in trouble. VW opposes key environmental laws we need if we’re going to stop our planet going the way of Alderaan (bye bye),” writes Greenpeace on its dedicated anti-VW Web site. “But all is not lost. We feel the good in Volkswagen. All of us in the Rebellion are calling on Volkswagen to turn away from the Dark Side and give our planet a chance.”
Timed with today’s opening of the Geneva Motor Show, VW issued a press release stating “ambitious new sustainability targets” dedicated to achieving emissions below 120 gram CO2/km for the first time in 2015.
VW said now more than two-thirds of its €62.4 billion ($82 billion) budgeted investment program through to 2016 is to be spent on “ever more efficient vehicles, powertrains and technologies as well as environmentally compatible production.”
The result, VW said, will be annual efficiency increases of 10-15 percent on average for each successive model year as it heads toward its targets.
By 2018, VW’s aggregate product line is to be 15 percent more efficient, VW said, and by 2020, greenhouse gas emissions associated with production related energy supplies will be reduced by 40 percent.
And if that is not enough, VW’s comprehensive plan calls for investing €600 million ($789.1 million) to be invested in renewable energies such as wind, solar and hydroelectric.
A 25-page document by Greenpeace available online and downloadable as a PDF says why Greenpeace has taken such a hard stance against VW, which only today said it will commit to a 2015 model year CO2 target of 120 gram CO2/km. Greenpeace originally began the campaign urging VW to meet this target by 2012.
“On 26 January 2007, Volkswagen joined other German car companies to send a letter to European Commissioners asking them to reconsider proposals to impose a mandatory target of no more than 120g CO2/km for new cars sold in Europe by 2012,” Greenpeace wrote in its PDF. “The companies claimed that this target was ‘technically not accomplishable’ and would constitute ‘a massive industrial political intervention at the expense of the entire European, and especially the German, automobile industry.’ They did not hesitate to evoke the spectre of massive industrial destabilisation. ‘The direct consequence would be the migration of a large number of jobs from European production plants of automobile manufacturers and the supplier industry.’”
It might now appear that “the good in Volkswagen” has found a way to do what was reportedly “technically not accomplishable,” even if the goal is deferred to a few years later, and if – as it once said – it will cost a “large number” of European jobs.
Or maybe that was just VW’s dark side talking, and it has now seen the light – one with a green hue to it that illuminated the situation in an ultimately convincing manner?
Whether this is actually the case was not verified by VW. According to Mark Gillies, manager, product & technology for Volkswagen of America, mandates originally proposed for 2012 about which Greenpeace was concerned were “technically very difficult” and never made into law for this model year. VW’s agreement to cut emissions to the proposed amount by 2015 is a target it has decided is attainable, he said.
We also contacted Greenpeace today, but the U.S. representative spoken to had not even heard the news, and said he would have to consult with colleagues. Thus far we’ve not heard back but do know that as recently as late last month Greenpeace said it was still upset with VW. On Feb. 28, its representatives contended their influence against VW was growing and were quoted in the UK saying so while picketing against VW’s then-proposal to cut greenhouse gases by 10 percent by 2020, instead of 40 percent as VW committed to today.