Volkswagen emissions scandal: Martin Winterkorn's co-driver is not the man to change VW's direction


Click to follow

Volkswagen will welcome a new chief executive to what has become the toughest job in motoring. If the bookies are to be believed, the man tagged to clean up VW’s dirty practices and dirty exhausts will be Matthias Müller, the 62-year-old boss of VW’s Porsche arm. Ladbrokes has him as the odds-on favourite.

Would this be a wise decision? That’s open to question. The bad ones made by VW in this affair are legion. It is mystifying how those responsible for installing devices designed to cheat emissions tests thought they could get away with it.

The company has at least achieved a speedy parting of the ways with Martin Winterkorn, the boss who presided over the affair even if, as he says, he was “not aware of any wrongdoing on my part”. But does the company “get it”? The gushing tribute paid to Mr Winterkorn in the announcement of this resignation struck entirely the wrong note. A projected multimillion-euro payoff can only compound that. 

The carmaker’s works council says it wants to change the corporate culture. It’s hard to see Mr Müller, a protégé of Mr Winterkorn, as the new broom to do that. But his main rivals are also insiders, although some have at least had spells at competing companies. 

Whichever of them is crowned this morning, their main job over the next few years will be making settlements rather than cars, as a growing list of countries and lawyers fall over each other to launch investigations and court cases.

VW is not the first car company to find itself knee-deep in scandal. Toyota looked to be on its knees after it was forced to recall millions of vehicles between 2009 and 2011 over sudden, unintended acceleration. With its apparently swift admission of guilt, VW may have learnt something from its Japanese rival’s mishandling of that affair.

It may also have noted that Toyota emerged stronger than ever.

Profitable and cash-rich, with around €17bn (£12.5bn) on its books at its most recent results, it is notable that VW’s shares have been recovering as rival industrials listed on the German Dax suffer from guilt by association. The regulatory authorities pursuing the company have a duty now to force change upon it, in addition to ensuring that this polluter pays. VW looks (for now) to have the resources to do that.