Volkswagen, the beleaguered German car maker, will tomorrow start firing people it holds responsible for the emissions scandal which has engulfed the company.
The dismissals, together with the announcement of a new chief executive to replace Martin Winterkorn who resigned on Wednesday, are part of a massive shake-up of VW’s management in a bid to get a grip on events which have wiped £25bn, or 30 per cent, off VW’s share price in five days.
Three senior executives were reported to be facing dismissal included Ulrich Hackenberg, head of research and development at VW’s Audi division and who was head of development at Volkswagen from 2007 until 2013. Mr Hackenberg was a close associate of Mr Winterkorn who resigned as VW boss on Wednesday. Mr Hackenberg is the most senior of the executives facing criticism. He is the inventor of VW’s celebrated “building crate” system which allowed VW car components to be simply removed in one go and replaced.
Wolfgang Hatz, the Porsche research and development executive, is also facing the sack, together with Michael Horn, VW’s American boss. All three men were said to bear “technical responsibility” for the scandal according to German press reports citing company sources.
A further executive, Heinz-Jakob Neusser, who was Mr Hackenberg’s successor at VW, is also under pressure according to the German magazine Der Spiegel.
It also reported that senior VW board directors were said to be “speechless” following the disclosure the company admitted on 3 September to US regulators it had deliberately manipulated software for emissions tests but only informed the VW board in Germany two weeks later.
Officially VW refused to comment on the sackings but a member of its supervisory board said publicly that he expects further resignations at the German automaker.
Olaf Lies, economy and transport minister of VW’s home state Lower-Saxony, which holds a 20 per cent stake in the company, said the investigation into the scandal was only just starting. “There must be people responsible for allowing the manipulation of emission levels to happen,” he told German radio.
VW’s main board will also announce a replacement chief executive to lead the company which employs 600,000 staff and sold more than 10 million cars last year, making it currently the world’s largest car manufacturer.
The Porsche boss Matthias Müller has been widely touted as the main candidate although others have cited Herbert Diess, a member of the VW board of management. Mr Diess joined earlier this year and is said to be favoured by some to be the best executive to provide the Wolfsburg-based company with the “fresh start” board members believe is crucial.
The Skoda boss Winfried Vahland was being tipped as a possible new board member with the job of repairing VW’s damaged image in the US.
The board meeting is also expected to announce a list of the vehicles said to carry the “defeat device software” deliberately designed to cheat emission tests so the vehicles could pump out pollutants at more than 40 times the legal US limits. “Our goal is to give precise information about the concerned brands and models,” a spokesman said.
A row also erupted over Mr Winterkorn’s severance and pension payments. Company accounts show Mr Winterkorn, Germany’s best-paid executive, amassed a huge pension. He may also qualify for millions more in severance pay, possibly as much as two years’ salary or £23m. One City investor said: “The pension issue looks very bad. It reminds us of the situation with [former chief executive] Fred Goodwin at RBS.”
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