Volkswagen aims for more electric cars by 2020 amid ongoing emissions scandal

Volkswagen is trying to mash the dash into the future, but its ongoing emissions scandal remains its biggest roadblock. And it doesn’t look like the trudge from the crisis will be sliding into the rearview mirror anytime soon.

On Tuesday, the embattled automaker confirmed with the Wall Street Journal that it plans to build electric vehicles in North America by 2020 in an attempt to change its soiled reputation. Hours later on the same day, Reuters reported that three states filed separate lawsuits against VW. New York, Maryland and Massachusetts are alleging that the company violated their environmental laws and covered up its diesel-cheating scheme.

Before its emissions scandal even made international headlines last September, VW announced a plan to roll out with 20 electric cars and plug-in hybrids by 2020. They boldly predicted that their new cars will be smartphones on wheels. Tuesday’s confirmation for EVs was relegated to North America, but it didn’t reveal much more. When we asked Volkswagen about the plan in greater detail, our email wasn’t immediately returned.

Last month, VW struck a $14.7 billion settlement to remedy its emissions scandal. The company already has its e-Golf hatchback on the road, but ramping up its electric fleet by 2020 would seemingly make strides towards becoming a cleaner brand.

“We believe that this country, especially in urban mobility, will have a very strong shift from petrol engines into hybridization and electric cars,” Hinrich Woebcken, the new head of Volkswagen AG’s U.S. division, told the Wall Street Journal. “We are heavily investing in this one — including production in this North American region.”

If VW does deliver on its plan for electric vehicles in four years, Tesla could have more competition. That’s sort of ironic, considering Tesla CEO Elon Musk signed an open letter to the California Air Resources Board (CARB) last year, asking that VW accelerate its EV development instead of fixing compromised diesel models. This could get pretty interesting.

In the meantime, VW has a lot of work to do.