Over the last week news broke that Volkswagen had allegedly cheated on EPA emissions tests, causing a steep decline in Volkswagen’s stock price, and the resignation of CEO Prof. Dr. Martin Winterkorn. On Friday, Volkswagen named Matthias Müller, the former head of the Porsche group, as CEO of Volkswagen AG. In the next breath, the Volkswagen supervisory board denied personal responsibility in the Dieselgate crisis, and that instead mid-level employees were being held responsible, some of whom have already been fired.
The decision to select Müller came at the Volkswagen AG supervisory board meeting held on Friday. Müller has worked for Volkswagen AG companies for his entire adult career, including Audi, Porsche and Volkswagen. He will also remain as Chairman of Porsche AG until a successor can be found.
The interim Chairman of the Supervisory Board of Volkswagen AG, Berthold Huber, underscored: “Matthias Müller is a person of great strategic, entrepreneurial and social competence. He knows the Group and its brands well and can immediately engage in his new task with full energy. We expressly value his critical and constructive approach.”
In a separate statement, the supervisory board said:
Matthias Müller will lead the Volkswagen Group going forward as the new CEO of Volkswagen AG. He is what the company needs now. Matthias Müller is exactly the right man at the right time to make a fresh start and to drive clarification of the current crisis that has hit our company with decisiveness and to draw the right conclusions. We expressly value his critical and constructive approach.
At the same time, the statements from Volkswagen’s supervisory board make it clear the Board is denying responsibility and pinning the blame on the engineering team. When Winterkorn stepped down, the board said “The Executive Committee notes that Professor Dr. Winterkorn had no knowledge of the manipulation of emissions data” then praised him for his years of leadership and contribution to Volkswagen’s success. Winterkorn described being shocked and stunned “that misconduct on such a scale was possible in the Volkswagen Group”. Later in that statement the Board talked of the process of investigation and that more people would be fired.
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.
When announcing Müller’s selection as CEO, this statement was made:
Berthold Huber, Deputy Chairman of the Supervisory Board, said: “The test manipulations are a moral and political disaster for Volkswagen. The unlawful behavior of engineers and technicians involved in engine development shocked Volkswagen just as much as it shocked the public….”
That’s several statements by Volkswagen AG senior management consistently saying they were not responsible, and that “engineers and technicians” were. Does that fly? For this issue to have affected several cars, as it did, at a total of about 11 million vehicles sold around the world, the decision to cheat on emissions tests cannot have been made by a few rogue engineers. This decision has to have crossed across multiple engineering teams and cannot have been made by engineers and technicians acting on their own.