The Volkswagen diesel emissions scandal claimed its first major victim today as Martin Winterkorn, besieged chief executive officer of the now-troubled automaker, resigned accepting full responsibility for the problems. Winterkorn had gamely clung onto his position until today’s action.
In a statement issued this morning, Winterkorn said, “Volkswagen needs a fresh start — also in terms of personnel. I am clearing the way for this fresh start with my resignation. He further indicated he was “shocked … and stunned” by recent events and by the degree of misconduct. “Above all,” he noted, “I am stunned that misconduct on such a scale was possible in the Volkswagen Group.”
Winterkorn’s remarks appeared in Automotive News late this morning. The now-former VW CEO said that he accepted “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.”
The supervisory board is scheduled to meet Friday to choose a successor to Winterkorn. Two names have been mentioned, Matthias Mueller, head of the Porsche Group, and Herbert Diess, a recent arrival to VW ranks from BMW. Mueller is said to be the favorite of the Porsche family, which controls the automaker. Diess took over the VW brand, after helping to save BMW billions of euros during troubled economic times.
Winterkorn’s departure is likely the first of many current VW executives. The board has authorized an internal investigation into the emissions-rigging scandal. The probe seeks to identify the individual responsible for tossing the automaker into the bubbling cauldron in which it now finds itself.
Volkswagen is facing its worst crisis in its 78-year history. Not only are customers, some very loyal, questioning the automaker, but regulators, attorneys general and lawmakers are also looking carefully at the automaker. Over the last five days, the crisis has mushroomed out of control. It seemed to begin harmlessly enough on Friday with the announcement that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) had ordered the recall of nearly 500,000 Volkswagen diesel cars for emissions issues. Over the weekend, it simmered. Monday, it came to fully boil when it was announced that up to 11 million vehicles globally may be affected by the emissions issue because they used the same engine as the U.S. vehicles.
The rapid heating of the issue brought about calls for probes by Germany, South Korea and France, among other nations. Further, the attorneys general of states in the U.S. have joined New York attorney general in moves toward another probe of VW. The automaker has also been besieged with calls for class-action lawsuits and further probes by congressional panels.