Three years ago, Volkswagen AG was in the depths of scandal because it lied about the emissions of its diesel cars. As 2019 begins, it has emerged as the most disruptive player in the business of selling a different kind of fuel: the electrons that move electric cars.
This is a direct result of its diesel cheating. Ordered by U.S. and California officials to build a $2 billion profit-seeking business in electric vehicle fueling stations, it has done so with aplomb. The subsidiary it created, Electrify America LLC, is now the richest and most talked-about company in the making of roadside chargers. Its influence will be profound if millions of Americans switch from gasoline to electric drivetrains.
Electrify America and its money are like a gravitational force. Almost overnight, the Reston, Va.-based VW unit has turned its suppliers into market leaders. It has upended the business plans of longer-established charging companies, and set high and expensive new standards for crucial parts of the EV ecosystem.
The VW subsidiary says it is making charging faster and more accessible, just like regulators asked. But its rivals see something else: a ruthless competitor that is magnanimous in public but can be underhanded in private.