What would be the environmental cost of just selling VW's cheating cars?

As opposed to scrapping them and then building new ones to replace them? Is the environmental cost to build a car to replace one of them more than the damage the emissions would do if they were put back into service? What if VW spent the money to buy and scrap them on some other environmental endeavor?

It’s not about environmental cost. If you’re talking about CO2 emissions, the cheating cars are actually the same or better - they burn about the same amount of diesel per mile as a fixed one.

The problem is the cars are producing direct localized air pollution, harming people who live in cities where large numbers of these cars are driving.

Though to be fair, most older diesel heavy trucks don’t seem to have any pollution controls to speak of, if their black soot clouds that come out of the exhaust are anything to go by.

Specifically, oxides of nitrogen. Which is the specific emission test VW cheated on.

Soot emission is a different issue, but it seems that a lot of the attention paid to “clean diesel” was directed toward this, since it’s the most obvious and immediately visible. Even the cheating-est cheater cheatington VW “clean diesel” engines were much lower soot than the belching-smokestack monstrosities we were all used to.

That’s the problem with “environmental cost” - there is no way to compare different types of environmental cost. If car A emits 1 ton CO2 more than car B, but 2 kg less NOx, which is the better car? What about car C that runs on electricity from a nuclear power plant, which produces no CO2 or NOx but produces nuclear waste? It all depends on priorities.

There are lots of exemptions for diesels depending on application. Specifically, and not just limited to diesels, operating on private land as in not a publicly maintained road. Things like construction vehicles fall into that category.

I don’t know if it still exists, but EMS vehicles like fire trucks were exempt. However, that makes sense in a way as they are not being used all the time and the cost to update the entire FD fleet has got to be insane. Probably OK to let that be for the 20/30 year update on the fleet.

For those commercial trucks, not as exempt as they used to be. They do have EPA requirements now. Probably not as strict as personal vehicles though. Someone will chime in.

Let’s also get a sense of scale here. Last year, 18 million cars were sold in the US. The number of diesels being scrapped amounts to, at the very most, about half a million over a span of roughly three years. I think there is a non-insubstantial number of VW owners who would like to keep and fix their cars, if a fix is possible.

So I think it is fair to say that the number of cars being replaced by new vehicles under the buyback scheme really doesn’t change the overall environmental cost of producing at least 15 million cars each year.

Wait, so customers of VW cheat diesels had the option of having their car bought back by VW, who then scrapped them? Sounds like a huge waste.

On a slightly off topic. Has VW bounced back financially from the paying the huuuuuge fine?

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I think you are more asking about the environmental impact of replacement of all those cars, which is a IDK, the new cars will pollute less over their lifetime, but will have pollution associated with their creation. I would WAG however since it’s creation is only a small fraction of the total pollution a car makes over it’s lifetime the destroying them would be environmentally friendlier.

But to your point, how can one allow people to own cars that can not pass emissions (smog) testing. You made a car that is impossible to certify in many if not all states. And having a cheat device IIRC is a automatic fail for emissions here at least in NY. Giving such a car a pass would send a very wrong message and may be worse overall for time to come, allowing a polluting car with a cheat device sets a precedent and may encourage many others to try to get past that way.

I believe all the bought-back cars are still sitting on lots at this point, but part of the deal VW made with the government was that they would not be resold.

VW is now on the hook for about $30 billion in costs and fines as a result of the scandal, and its stock is trading about 30% lower than before the scandal. But they are still selling a hell of a lot of cars, and the concerns that they may have to declare bankruptcy appear to be over.

A quick google : their annual revenue is 254 billion USD! So they can probably pay the bill, though of course that comes from their profits, not total revenue. But if they took 6 billion from their profits each year they could pay it off in 5 years.

This is an interesting take on the whole situation. It’s from the “Skeptoid” podcast and makes the case that the government may have worsened the situation in the long run by this decision.