Musk Says Diesel Cheating Is Bad, CO2 Emissions Are Worse

  • `Very important' to act on chemical changes to air, oceans
  • Tesla Motors CEO speaks at government seminar in Berlin

VW Seeks New Leader to Control Diesel Dupe Crisis

Tesla Motors Inc. Chief Executive Officer Elon Musk said that while revelations that Volkswagen AG cheated on diesel emission tests are “obviously bad,” the issue the world should really be concerned about is carbon dioxide emissions.

“It’s very important that we take action today to recognize that we are making a very significant change to the chemical constituency of the atmosphere and the oceans,” Musk said Thursday in Berlin at a seminar organized by the Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy. “It’s very important that we do something.”

Elon Musk speaks in Berlin on Thursday, Sept. 24, 2015.

Photographer: Odd Andersen/AFP via Getty Images

The scandal at VW is putting diesel emissions across the industry under scrutiny. The company has set aside 6.5 billion euros ($7.3 billion) in an initial tally of the potential cost of its deception of regulators and customers about emissions of diesel engines installed in 11 million cars worldwide -- more vehicles than it sells in a year.

Musk said that whereas Germany is “really great” on sustainable power generation, the country doesn’t do as well on sustainable power consumption.

“Transport is still very much petrol and diesel,” Musk said. “So hopefully that’s something that will change.”

VW CEO Martin Winterkorn resigned within a week of the revelations, and other executives may also lose their jobs. VW’s supervisory board plans to discuss the CEO’s replacement at its meeting on Friday.

VW’s admission that millions of its “clean diesel” cars have software intended to defeat emissions tests wiped almost 20 billion euros off its market capitalization earlier this week. The shares rose Thursday.

Burning diesel creates more carbon dioxide per gallon than gasoline, but many vehicles that use diesel get better fuel economy than similar gasoline models, offsetting the higher carbon content of diesel, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Diesel generates more nitrogen oxides, which can cause smog. European environmental regulations have focused on carbon dioxide. The more stringent U.S. laws are designed to rein in both carbon dioxide and nitrogen oxides.

So far, the only mass-production vehicles without tailpipe emissions are powered by electricity. The batteries that fuel electric cars, such as Tesla’s Model S, are several steps removed from the emissions their charging creates. In the U.S., fossil fuels generate about two-third of electricity, including about 40 percent by coal-powered plants.

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