By on June 6, 2017

CCS Charging pic

Government officials and automakers are accusing Volkswagen of twisting its emissions-cheating penance to its own advantage. As part of its sentence for equipping over half a million vehicles with defeat devices, the United States is forcing VW to spend billions of dollars on a decade-long program that promotes environmentally friendly transportation and green technologies. The company opted to invest a large part of those compulsory efforts into establishing an EV charging network within the U.S.

However, seven state attorneys generals have urged the Environmental Protection Agency to closely monitor Volkswagen’s course. They contend that such a network would give the company an unfair advantage in the forthcoming electric revolution, allowing VW to profit from its misconduct. 

Government officials from both sides of the aisle seem genuinely paranoid that the company could turn the charging network into a potential cash cow but, according to The Wall Street Journal, none have proposed a suitable alternative. A spokeswoman for Rhode Island Attorney General Peter Kilmartin, a Democrat, suggested “concerns remain that [VW] will gain an advantage in the industry despite the company’s past malfeasance.”

Arizona’s Republican-led Office of the Attorney General issued a similar statement. “We continue to be concerned that Volkswagen will be allowed to benefit from a settlement intended to penalize for defrauding consumers,” said a spokeswoman before adding the need for the EPA to “diligently monitor” the situation.

VW’s charging network, while separate from other financial sanctions imposed on the company, is a large expenditure in itself. But it’s also in line with the automaker’s recent efforts to rebrand itself as a progressive and green automaker with a new focus on EVs. An initial $300 million investment outside California will go towards the construction of more than 450 charging stations in 39 states, situated near highways and business centers. Additional investments will be made to bolster the Golden State’s comparatively robust network.

The German automaker says it doesn’t view the stations’ construction as government-approved business opportunity. Instead, it believes its good-faith investment into U.S. infrastructure is highly preferable to continue being fined directly for its past transgressions. It also maintains that its network would only comprise a small portion of North America’s future charging needs — less than 10 percent, it estimates.

“There is a lot of investment that needs to happen. We’re just part of it,” explained Mark McNabb, chief executive of Electrify America, the Volkswagen subsidiary overseeing the project.

But there is a business model in place. VW intends to gain revenue from drivers charged at stations, or through a subscription. Automakers may also be able to purchase unlimited credits with Electrify America on a per vehicle basis. Prices have yet to be specified but a spokesperson from the company explained they will likely fluctuate in tandem with the market. Subscriptions are also likely to be issued on a time-sensitive basis.

Ford has made its position on the network clear, issuing concerns that Volkswagen might design stations without considering other manufacturers’ needs or will take advantage of its customers’ data. “Given the importance of this portion of the infrastructure to [electric vehicle] adoption, Ford has reservations about having a key electrification driver dependent on and ultimately controlled by one automotive competitor,” stated John Viera, Ford’s global director of sustainability and vehicle environmental matters, in a letter to California regulators.

The Environmental Protection Agency has had little to say on the subject but the California Air Resources Board wrote to Volkswagen in May. The letter requested the automaker address rivals’ concerns, plan to install charging stations in lower-income areas, and consider the prospect of servicing hydrogen fuel cell vehicles — which it wisely omitted from the development project.

While Volkswagen’s certainly could manipulate the investment to better serve itself or even corner certain portions of the EV market, Tesla Motors could just as easily be doing the same with its own charging network. The only difference here is the former is supposed to be getting punished while latter is not. Regulators gave Volkswagen the green light and it’s up to them to see that they don’t take advantage.

However, let’s not forget that everything seems to be pointing to VW using standard high-capacity outlets that most automakers are either already using or could easily adapt to. It’s also doubtful that the company would try to swindle the public with its previous offense still fresh in everyone’s mind.

[Image: Volkswagen Group]

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15 Comments on “Profit from Punishment? Volkswagen’s Preferred Emissions Penance Faces Criticism from State Officials and Automakers...”

  • avatar

    As long as it is not a proprietary network like Tesla’s Superchargers, then the only unfair advantage will be having more cars able to use the network than any other brand except, perhaps, for Tesla.

    In other words, pay attention to the standards they use; if it’s CHAdeMO or CCS then there shouldn’t be anything unfair about it. Even if it’s Tesla’s Superchargers, there’s nothing unfair about it. Only if they choose an in-house format that prevents any other brand from using it to full capacity should VW be disciplined.

  • avatar
    SCE to AUX

    This story is thick with irony.

    Much of this could be settled if regulators narrowed down the charging standards to 1 or 2, rather than permit the Wild West approach that inhibits the proliferation of EVs (in part). Tesla realized this early on and built their own, while also making their cars adaptable to other standards, but this didn’t have to be.

    But even without a common standard, the government settlement should not have been ambiguous. Many in the EV community worried over this issue months ago.

    I don’t care if VW profits from installing the charger style of its choice, at its own expense. It’s quite hypocritical for other mfrs to criticize VW for doing this, when they won’t lift a finger to build their own networks or expand the existing one. GM made their intentions very clear when the Bolt was released – that they will do nothing to build more charging stations.

    • 0 avatar

      Most quick chargers I use now have both CCS and CHAdeMO heads. Doesn’t seem to be a problem. Some of the VW CCS Chargers will support the 800v 320 kWh mode from what I’ve read. If VW wants to profit from their charging network, let them do it. That way there will be motivation to keep it maintained.

      One issue I’ve read about elsewhere is that the hydrogen mafia wants their share of the money.

      “As CARB is considering approving VW’s plan, automakers are expressing concerns and the most depressing one is coming from Toyota, Honda, and Hyundai.

      Those are the 3 automakers still the most entrenched in fuel cell hydrogen technology for the next-gen on zero-emission vehicles and therefore, unsurprisingly, they are requesting that some of VW’s funds go to build hydrogen fueling stations instead of EV charging stations.”

      • 0 avatar

        It would be hard for the oil companies to build convenience stores around charging stations – hydrogen stations keep the business model intact. You’re in, you’re out, they’re richer – one overpriced item at a time.

        X liters of H2 and a $1.99 2-pak of cupcakes — now GET OUT and make room for the next sucker…

  • avatar

    Here is the thing I don’t get, addressed to anyone that sees a glorious electrified future.

    I don’t have different nozzle configurations to fill up gas burning, planet destroying cars based on the manufacturer of the vehicle. A gas nozzle fits into a Ford into a Toyota into a Lexus into a Ferrari into a Kia into a rotting away Yugo for that matter.

    Manufacturer specific charging networks are doomed to fail because eventually, someone will have the dominate standard that everyone follows. Winning “now” is a short term game as the specifications could easily change, rendering the winner today obsolete. Hey VHS beat Betamax and DVD beat VHS and streaming 1080P and 4K beat Blu-Ray before it could beat DVD.

    The faster they standardize on a connector the faster you’ll get adoption. You can still provide value to your customers. If I stop at a VW charging station and I own a VW vehicle, can’t a pin, or chip, or code tell the charger I’m a VW customer and give me a free charge, or a rebate, or some other perk? Can’t other manufactured vehicles use the charger and pay a fee if needed?

    No one is going to win this – and it will only stifle adoption. As it is electric vehicles have huge head winds with the new world order of under $50 a barrel oil, which isn’t changing anytime soon – barring World War III or a “Reichstag fire” in the US and dear leader asking for emergency powers.

    • 0 avatar

      “…barring World War III or a “Reichstag fire” in the US and dear leader asking for emergency powers.”


    • 0 avatar

      @APaGttH Charging connector standards do exist and it is not like the “wild wild west” as you imply here. For example, VHS and Betamax came out at around the same time and no-one knew which would “win”. However, the market quickly picked VHS and left Betamax in the dust. The same thing happened when Blu-Ray and HD-DVD were introduced and the same thing is already happening for electric car charging connectors.

      For Level 1 (110 volt AC) and Level 2 (240 volt AC) charging every recently built electric car I know of supports the J1772 standard. These types of chargers are getting to be pretty common where people tend to park their cars for a few hours (e.g. shopping malls, grocery stores, employers, parking garages, etc.). It takes several hours to fully charge a car on a Level 2 charger. Tesla does not have a J1772 socket on their cars, but provide a free adapter with every car.

      Level 3 charging (a.k.a. DC fast charging) allows you to charge much more quickly. Tesla’s Supercharger network falls under this category and these are the type being built by VW’s spin off company here. The three current standards here are Tesla’s connector, CHAdeMO, and CCS. CHAdeMO is a Japanese standard and is only supported at this point, really, by Nissan. You can think of this as the “Betamax” of charging connectors, at least here in the USA. It is expected that Nissan will support the CCS connector when they announce the redesigned Leaf at the end of the year.

      CCS is the “VHS” of charging connectors (at least here in the USA). It uses the J1772 connector, but adds two large pins underneath. That means a car company can support Level 1 through Level 3 charging with one socket. Most manufacturers and charging station networks are supporting this standard. The one hold out here is Tesla, which uses its own proprietary (much smaller) connector for this purpose. They already have an adapter to allow a Tesla to use a CHAdeMO charging station – it is expected they will introduce a similar adapter for CCS when they become more common. Though their network is already far more extensive than the rest combined.

  • avatar
    Jeff Weimer

    I have no problem with VW trying to make lemonade here.

    • 0 avatar

      I agree so much. They have been punished. The government needs to move on.

      • 0 avatar

        +1, this is getting ridiculous. What is the fine’s intention? Bring an automaker with a long history in the US, including a somewhat successful factory, to its knees? Infrastructure investment has been asked for by every politician everywhere, so this is pretty ironic. Force them to use widely available standards for charging, and be happy with it.

  • avatar

    This is why we still pay a 3% interchange fee for moving money electronically, where places like Africa do it way cheaper on smartphones….no one can agree on a fair standard, everyone wants their standard to win, so they can get licensing fees forever. Apple Pay ? Paypal ? All fail as universal adoption as no one wants the other guy to get the money.

    All cars get gas from all stations. This is the standard they have to meet. I saw a cell phone charger the other day at a Honda dealer. It had probably a dozen plugs.

    The HDMI is a great example. Everyone uses it, but only because the Electronics makers made a deal with the content providers. It is cheap to license, but you must support the content protection. If you don’t you are sued for violation of patent. HDMI isn’t wonderful, it is just the standard they all agreed upon, but they headed off a universal open source DVI standard. The content providers got the hardware makers to do their copyright protection work, and via licensing – contract law to boot.

    Car makers are nowhere near as incestuous as the Consumer Electronics folks, and electric power isn’t anywhere near “content” for the rights holders. Still, you need a universal nozzle. Period. The nonsense where I get the patent and for the rest of eternity get a residual because the plug is a triangle, or has three ovals, or whatever, won’t work this time…..

    There needs to be a USB standard for charging cars. Sadly, I’m sure we will suffer a railroad type gauge war since a lot of very rich interests will do all they can to make sure their standard wins.

    • 0 avatar

      Here’s the spec for the monster 400kW (Teslas currently charge at a max 120 kW rate, Leafs are 50kW) Chargepoint Express station. Pretty damned close to gasoline fueling times. According to the specs, it can support three different connectors. It also supports the following standards: CHAdeMO, CCS1 (SAE J1772™ Combo), CCS2 (IEC 61851-23), GB/T (20234.3-2011 DtC). It also supports voltages from 400v to 1000v. Its cables are liquid cooled.

      So, unlike a gas pump, multiple standards and charge rates can be supported on a single “pump”. I also think this might be one of the chargers VW is planning on deploying. This is the charger for people that don’t have home charging available. 325 kW charge rate cars are coming and when 400 kW cars arrive, the infrastructure will be ready to go.

      • 0 avatar

        “So, unlike a gas pump, multiple standards and charge rates can be supported on a single pump”

        This doesn’t really seem relevant to gas vehicles, as the standard interface is universal and refuel rates are not limited by the specific vehicle.

        However, I have definitely seem many gas pumps that dispense multiple grades of fuel plus diesel; and have *never* seen a gas pump where the user could not vary the refuel rate if they so desired.

        • 0 avatar

          Used to be a difference between leaded and unleaded nozzles and you sure can’t use the same hose/nozzle for gas/diesel.

          So how much difference is that from an electric charging station with a couple of different connectors?

          • 0 avatar

            The entire industry standardized on *the same* leaded fuel connector; and then the entire industry standardized on *the same* unleaded fuel connector when external circumstances dictated a change.

            You can’t put gas through a Diesel nozzle for valid technical reasons.

            The current proliferation of electric charging standards seems much more arbitrary; and appears to be driven by a short-sighted VHS/Beta style desire to control a captive proprietary standard rather than any technical limitation.

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