VW first carmaker to pledge ‘CO2-neutral’ manufacturing

Source: David Ferris, E&E News reporter • Posted: Friday, February 22, 2019

Germany’s Volkswagen AG has committed to manufacturing a new model of electric car this year while adding zero carbon to the atmosphere — a very specific and difficult goal that no automaker has ever tried.

Other automakers want to eliminate emissions from certain car models by electrifying them. Other non-auto companies, especially technology firms like Apple Inc. and Google, have made big strides in eliminating emissions from operations. But Volkswagen is the first automaker to promise carbon neutrality in the heavy, energy-intensive business of making a car.

“This is probably the largest full-scale attempt I’ve seen this way,” said Sam Abuelsamid, a Detroit mobility analyst for research firm Navigant.

Zero-carbon goals are de rigueur among big tech companies that use loads of energy at their data centers and are highly sensitive to consumers’ environmental complaints. Among automakers, Volkswagen has in recent years been subject to this level of scrutiny because its “dieselgate” scandal eroded public trust.

The subject of the commitment is the I.D., an electric hatchback slated to be introduced in Europe in 2020.

The I.D. “will be the first volume-production vehicle to have a CO2-neutral footprint,” Volkswagen said in a statement released last week. The I.D. will achieve this status as production begins at the end of this year. The statement detailed how the car will be produced at a plant in Zwickau, Germany, which VW said will be the world’s first auto plant to make a wholesale switch from production of internal combustion cars to electric ones.

Volkswagen provided few details on what exactly “CO2-neutral” meant or how the status would be achieved so quickly. Legions of devils are in the details of carbon commitments, especially in auto manufacturing, where tens of thousands of suppliers are not under a carmaker’s direct control.

Volkswagen’s statement said the carbon neutrality “will be possible owing to high levels of energy efficiency [and] a highly efficient compact cogeneration plant at the facility,” as well as renewable energy that Volkswagen will source from its own energy subsidiary that it founded last month.

In the same statement, Volkswagen explained that it will begin to apply aggressive new transparency standards on its 40,000 suppliers and that sustainability targets will be a selection criterion equal to traditional standards like cost and quality.

Outside this one specific car, Volkswagen’s overall climate change goal — zero carbon emissions by 2050 — isn’t unique among automakers. Toyota Motor Corp. has the same target, and others including General Motors Co. and Honda Motor Co. have set the same goal but have attached no date to it.

Volkswagen cast its goal as an answer to the Paris Agreement, the global accord that seeks to limit the increase in global temperatures by reducing carbon emissions.

“Although we are unable to overcome the big political challenges relating to climate on our own, we are approaching the issue with a clearly defined plan,” the statement said.

Production of the I.D. is expected to be small at first. But it has outsize importance for Volkswagen because it is the first car to use the automaker’s new electric platform, called MEB.

The company has pinned its future on MEB, calling it “one of the most important projects in the history of Volkswagen.” It is intended to underlie 20 new electric models to be introduced by 2025 and perhaps be sold to other automakers as the basis for their electric models.

With the economies of scale from a shared platform, Volkswagen hopes it can be the first to offer EVs at the same price as today’s fossil-fuel-powered cars.