Volkswagen has announced the resignation of its chief executive, Martin Winterkorn, and said the fallout from the diesel emissions test scandal would result in further executive scalps and a likely criminal investigation in Germany.
Winterkorn said on Wednesday he took full responsibility for the scandal, in which the company admitted that some 11-million cars around the world were installed with a defeat device that reduced emissions under test conditions only, but he denied personal wrongdoing. Since the news broke, Volkswagen’s stock value has fallen dramatically and Winterkorn described the situation facing the carmaker as a “grave crisis”.
Volkswagen potentially faces up to £12-billion in fines and will be subject to multiple investigations after the US Environmental Protection Agency accused it of manipulating tests on September 18th. Its executive committee said on Wednesday that it had voluntarily submitted a complaint to the state prosecutors’ office in Brunswick. “In the view of the executive committee, criminal proceedings may be relevant due to the irregularities,” it said.
Winterkorn said he was shocked by the events of recent days. “Above all, I am stunned that misconduct on such a scale was possible in the Volkswagen group. As CEO I accept responsibility for the irregularities that have been found in diesel engines and have therefore requested the supervisory board to agree on terminating my function as CEO of the Volkswagen group. I am doing this in the interests of the company, even though I am not aware of any wrongdoing on my part. Volkswagen needs a fresh start – also in terms of personnel. I am clearing the way for this fresh start with my resignation.”
Winterkorn had been under pressure to step down as Volkswagen’s plunging share price wiped more than a third off the company’s value since this time last week. VW shares rose 8% after news of his resignation began circulating, which came just before the German stock market was due to close.
“I have always been driven by my desire to serve this company, especially our customers and employees. Volkswagen has been, is and will always be my life. The process of clarification and transparency must continue. This is the only way to win back trust. I am convinced that the Volkswagen group and its team will overcome this grave crisis,” he added.
Volkswagen will most to appoint Winterkorn’s replacement within the next few days, and has made it clear that there would be more scalps on the chopping block. In a statement it said: “The executive committee is expecting further personnel consequences in the next days. The internal group investigations are continuing at a high tempo. All participants in these proceedings that has resulted in unmeasurable harm for Volkswagen, will be subject to the full consequences.”
Winterkorn’s resignation came after it emerged the troubled car company had hired the Kirkland & Ellis, the US law firm that defended BP after the Deepwater Horizon oil disaster, to help it deal with the growing collection of investigations and lawsuits relating to the scandal. Their experience in this arena should prove invaluable to helping Volkswagen dig themselves out of the hole they’ve found themselves in.
The German government was also dragged in after it admitted that it already knew about “defeat devices” that can cheat emissions tests. Written responses from the transport ministry to questions from the Green party in July show the government was aware of the defeat devices. However, the transport ministry said it had “no knowledge” of the devices being used, and there was no mention of VW.
Oliver Krischer, deputy leader of the Green party, told German television that this showed the government knew carmakers were trying to manipulate emissions tests. He said: “The government worked together with the auto industry, not to ensure that the emissions levels were reduced, but so that the measuring system was set up in such a way that on paper the cars met the necessary standards.”
However, Alexander Dobrindt, the transport minister, dismissed the claims as “false and inappropriate”.
German public prosecutors said they were considering launching a criminal investigation into the scandal and are examining a collection of legal claims that have been filed by private individuals against VW.
Ségolène Royal, the French energy minister, said Paris would be “extremely thorough, extremely severe” with VW.