Volkswagen Chief Executive Matthias Müller’s trip to the United States has taken an unexpected turn. Many observers had assumed that, with his charm offensive, the automaker’s top executive would manage to alleviate at least some of the intense pressure on a company plagued by an emissions scandal affecting 11 million cars worldwide.
Then came the interview. With a series of statements in a U.S. radio interview, perceived as reckless and naïve by many at the company, Mr. Müller has only exacerbated the conflict at the world’s second-largest carmaker after Toyota. After being in office for only four months, Mr. Müller is suddenly under fire once again.
In an interview with U.S. radio broadcaster NPR the VW chief sounded dismissive rather than contrite about the scandal that has rocked the company since September. He said Volkswagen “didn’t lie” to U.S. regulators when confronted with false diesel emissions data and called the situation “a technical problem,” rather than an ethical one.
His remarks caused an uproar, not just in the United States but back in Germany. A few members of VW’s own supervisory board were furious, Handelsblatt has learned from people familiar with the matter. In Germany, the non-executive supervisory board has the power to hire and fire executives and needs to approve major changes in a company’s strategy.
Mr. Müller should have known that every word he uttered in the United States would be scrutinized with a fine-tooth comb, one supervisory board member said. The chief executive had apparently been poorly advised, he added.
The supervisory board members will discuss the faux pas in the coming days, Handelsblatt has learned.