Larry Thompson

VW's US Dieselgate watchdog pushes for more transparency

Thompson DPA 1800px
Make it easy to see, VW. Source: DPA

Nearly three years after Volkswagen admitted to rigging millions of diesel cars to pass emission tests, Larry Thompson, the company’s US-appointed compliance monitor, published a first public report on the carmaker’s turnaround efforts.

The report, however, did not offer up many specifics on progress made in cleaning up the corporate culture that led to Dieselgate – but that may have been due to a lack of cooperation from VW.

The former US deputy attorney general appointed as “independent compliance auditor” (ICA) as part of VW’s US settlement last year, complained about delays in getting documents he needed or getting them with too many sections marked out. There was a “reluctance to share certain information,” he wrote in the first of three annual reports that will be published.

The company justified redacting documents by claiming confidentiality, Germany’s privacy laws or attorney-client privilege. “With respect to the VW defendants’ assertions of privilege and work product, the ICA has disagreed with some of the VW defendants’ assertions,” Mr. Thompson said.

Compliance report anticlimactic

In earlier statements, Mr. Thompson spoke of VW’s “corrupt corporate culture,” but this much-anticipated report had little in terms of attributing blame or accountability, even as investigations proceed and new reports of possible culpability continue to surface.

Media reports this week, for instance, said that the former head of product safety, Bernd Gottweis, told investigators he personally informed the current CEO, Herbert Diess, of the problem with diesel emissions-cheating a week before the official notice from US authorities made it public. Mr. Diess has denied any prior knowledge and disputed this new report.

In Mr. Thompson’s presentation Monday, he reiterated that he is neither a prosecutor nor an investigator – his task is not to track down wrongdoers. But the lack of specifics in determining how the corporate culture permitted this deception made his report somewhat anticlimactic. He said it was too early to tell how much progress VW has made in correcting that culture.

Company pledges to improve transparency

The report mentioned only two minor infractions: Questions for an employee survey on integrity were somehow forgotten and the company failed to notify California regulators as required before beginning new testing.

VW said both issues were being rectified and pledged to be better about providing information. Mr. Thompson’s report said that transparency would have to be improved before his next annual report in order for him to do his job.

VW executive board member Hiltrud Werner, who is responsible for integrity and legal affairs, acknowledged during the press conference it would take some time to turn around a whole corporate culture. “It is not easy to come from shock to shame to change,” she said. “We have a marathon ahead of us.”

Darrell Delamaide is a writer and editor for Handelsblatt Global in Washington, DC. To contact the author: d.delamaide@extern.handelsblatt.com.

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