Sustainability Report 2018

Volkswagen released its Sustainability Report 2018 12th of march 2019. The report refers to production-related environmental goals several times. Apparently Volkswagen continues to succeed in further reducing resource consumption and avoiding environmental pollution in the production process. This is very impressive: although VW has been highly active in this area for years, savings potentials are still being identified and realized. That is no small matter and should be recognized.

VW neglects Product-related environmental goals

Key terms and key concepts from the Environmental Principles Product, such as “non-regulated emissions” or “fuel consumption over the vehicle’s service life with the customer”, do not even appear in the sustainability report. Only some of these environmental principles are someway addressed.

On page 57, under the heading “CO₂ balance in the usage phase”, there are some revealing statements. Volkswagen reports its efforts to reduce fuel consumption in the driving cycle: „The Volkswagen Group’s new passenger car fleet in the EU (excluding Lamborghini and Bentley) emitted an average of 123 g CO₂/km in the reporting period – below the 2018 European limit of 130 g CO₂/km.“

Ten years ago, VW had the wisdom to differentiate between fuel consumption in the driving cycle and in real-life. Hence the environmental goal: „reduce fuel consumption in the driving cycle and over the vehicle’s service life with the customer“ (I’m writing here „the“ environmental goal, although one phrase obviously includes two independent goals.)

Results from driving cycle are considered now to be real-life

VW now assumes that the test results from the New European Driving Cycle (NEDC) give a true picture of fuel consumption over the vehicle’s service life with the customer. VW now claims to give a valid representation of CO₂ balance during the usage phase based on data from the driving cycle. As if Prof. Winterkorn had been wrong when he set two distinct goals – to reduce fuel consumption both in real driving and in the driving cycle.

Volkswagen seems to have lost interest in the environmental impact of its products during their usage-phase. VW seems to be focussed on fulfilling legal requirements, although the Environmental Principles Products from 2008 seem to be still valid. They are mentioned in the sustainability report on page 54. But the report does not even mention the content of these Principles. Apparently VW does not want to report its supposed lack of progress regarding those Environmental Goals.

Of course, the fulfillment of legal requirements is indispensable. VW gives an example of progress regarding fuel consumption in the driving cycle on page 45. There VW describes a particularly fuel-efficient engine for the latest BlueMotion models: „[the Engine] has a special sailing function where the engine is switched off while the vehicle is coasting. Together with other technical innovations, this can improve fuel consumption by up to 1.0 l/100 km.“ This seems to be suitable to help meet the regulatory requirements for fleet consumption. But since Volkswagen does not care to look at consumption in customer operations, the actual benefit of this innovation in customer operations remains unknown.

Goals and report are not compatible

Another example of a measure with unknown benefit is mentioned on Page 10: “Driver training courses in fuel-efficient driving play an effective part in cutting fuel consumption and thus CO₂ emissions.” This brief remark may touch the environmental goal „support fuel-efficient styles of driving“. All the more surprising that no attempt is made to estimate the impact of these courses. VW does not even report the number of customers who took part in those training courses in 2018.

Anyway, it is unknown wether this measure is related to the environmental goal „support fuel-efficient styles of driving“, as VW can not explain this environmental goal. VW does not seem to know what the goal originally meant. So VW ignores both conceivable readings of this environmental goal:

On the one hand, VW does not seem to care wether its products tolerate fuel-efficient driving. Due to fuel-efficient driving the brakes may corrode and eventually fail. On the other hand, VW does not seem to care about the consumption in the customer’s operation. And VW does not care to what extent it is reduced by measures like the training mentioned above.

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