Most of us simply can’t shell out more than $70,000 for a Tesla. But comparatively affordable electrics like the Nissan Leaf still travel only about 80 miles on a charge—not far enough to dispel the dreaded “range anxiety” that such a low number provokes in most American drivers. A 2013 study by the California Center for Sustainable Energy found that only 9 percent of consumers said they would be satisfied with an electric car that can go 100 miles on a charge. Increase that range to 200 miles, though, and 70 percent of potential drivers said they’d be satisfied. ... over the past couple of years, a number of major automakers—General Motors, Nissan, Volkswagen—have lined up with plans to offer an electric car with (yep) approximately 200 miles of range, for a price somewhere around the average cost of a new American car, about $33,000. They all hope to do so quickly, as fuel efficiency requirements are ratcheting up every year. And they all hope to get there before media darling Tesla does. Musk—billionaire, celebrity, space and solar-energy mogul, would-be colonizer of Mars—has said since 2006 that Tesla’s “master plan” is to work toward building an affordable, long-range electric car. ... In short, the electric car business has taken the form of an old-fashioned race for a prize—a race in very soft sand. There’s no Moore’s law for batteries, which are chemical not digital. Cell development is all slow, arduous trial and error. When your goal is to drive energy efficiency up while driving costs down on a mass industrial scale, there aren’t many shortcuts or late-night inspirations to be had. But now it looks pretty clear who the winner will be. And it ain’t Tesla.
How the massive diesel fraud incinerated VW’s reputation—and will hobble the company for years to come. ... “Hoax,” of course, is a layman’s word. But plenty of legal terms also arguably apply, including “consumer fraud” and “false advertising.” They are fueling an explosion of litigation. That and the horrific reputational damage are subjecting Volkswagen to one of the severest challenges in its nearly 80-year history. ... The U.S. Department of Justice and the EPA have filed a civil suit that could theoretically subject VW to up to $45 billion in fines (though, in fairness, no one expects penalties quite that draconian). The DOJ and the EPA are also pursuing a criminal inquiry, as are prosecutors in Germany, France, Italy, Sweden, and South Korea. All 50 state attorneys general in the U.S. are also on the warpath, armed with state laws that, nominally at least, are every bit as crushing as the federal law. ... All of that comes on top of more than 500 class actions filed on behalf of owners and lessors of Volkswagen diesel cars ... VW’s misbehavior did not come out of nowhere. The company has a history of scandals and episodes in which it skirted the law. Each time—till now—it has escaped without dire consequences. ... VW is driven by a ruthless, overweening culture. Under Ferdinand Piëch and his successors, the company was run like an empire, with overwhelming control vested in a few hands, marked by a high-octane mix of ambition and arrogance—and micromanagement—all set against a volatile backdrop of epic family power plays, liaisons, and blood feuds. It’s a culture that mandated success at all costs.