Handelsblatt Exclusive

VW Probe Result: Ignorance is Bliss

The two protagonists on the sided: Ferdinand Piëch, left, and VW CEO Martin Winterkorn, right. Hans Dieter Pötsch, center, is set become the new VW chairman. Source: DPA
Ferdinand Piëch, left, a major Volkswagen shareholder and its former CEO and chairman, and the former CEO Martin Winterkorn, right, with Hans Dieter Pötsch, the chairman of VW's non-executive supervisory board, during happier days in 2015.
  • Why it matters

    Why it matters

    Getting to the bottom of Volkswagen’s Dieselgate emissions scandal will determine how much damage, both financial and reputational, the German automaker will ultimately bear.

  • Facts


    • An internal probe ordered by Volkswagen has found no evidence that the automaker’s top managers knew of or ordered the massive emissions fraud.
    • But documents obtained by Handelsblatt suggest that many managers knew of the U.S. emissions problem as early as 2014, almost a year before it became public.
    • U.S. and German prosecutors are still investigating, but big unanswered questions remain: Why was VW’s top supervisory board not informed of the problems for more than nine months after they first surfaced?
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The recall in late 2014 was no big deal for Volkswagen’s management board. A half a million diesel cars in the United States would be ordered to repair shops because their emission levels were too high.

The problem was annoying but not unresolvable.

VW technicians had already developed a software update to recalibrate the engine control module. Such a recall, VW sources said, might not be daily business but they happen often.

Nobody on the management board seemed upset.

At that point, nearly a year before the carmaker’s emissions rigging scandal exploded, it might not have been clear to the management board exactly what was slumbering in its diesel engines.

Otherwise top managers, led at the time by then-Chief Executive Martin Winterkorn, could have contained the biggest crisis in Volkswagen’s 78-year history, or perhaps even prevented it.

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