Daily briefing

The Dieselgate files: Who said what, and when Winterkorn knew

FILE PHOTO: Former Volkswagen CEO Winterkorn arrives to testify at parliamentary committee on the carmaker’s emissions scandal in Berlin
I forgot. Source: Reuters

A court in Braunschweig is still untangling the Dieselgate whodunnit, investigating Martin Winterkorn for market manipulation and fraud. VW’s former boss says he didn’t know anything about cheat devices until September 2015, but statements suggest otherwise. Jens Hadler led the engine development department for the VW brand through 2011. He claims in a witness statement that not only was Mr. Winterkorn aware of different forms of cheat device, but that Mr. Winterkorn fired him for refusing to install some – and that was well before 2015. Brace, brace, for more painful revelations.

You’re damned if you make e-car batteries, and damned if you don’t. The business needs massive investment, delivers meager returns and is dominated by mighty Asian companies. But happily, Berlin now has the EU’s blessing (okay, read: cash) to build plants for battery cells to power e-vehicles. Failing to do so would be a big strategic error: Germans fear if the job is left to China, Beijing would take care of its own market first, leaving Germany at the back of the line. So Economy Minister Peter Altmaier is herding automakers, suppliers, chemical companies and energy firms into a consortium, hopefully by year’s end. He’s using R&D aid as bait. Now we just need someone willing to take the risk – don’t all rush into the paddock at once.

That’s a better look than diesel: VW is lagging on upgrading cars carrying emissions-cheating devices. While most vehicles affected in Germany have had a software update, in France and Italy only 69 percent have been fixed. In Romania it’s a pitiful 37 percent, just because the laws are laxer. In Croatia, only 25 percent of Skodas have had the update. That’s a worry for the EU, which is suing Germany, France, Italy and Romania for failing to meet air quality standards.

If you can stand more corporate scandal, here’s Germany’s largest bank. Malaysia’s former prime minister, Najib Razak, will appear in court this week charged with transferring money from the 1MDB state fund into his personal account and Deutsche is a fellow suspect. Investigators are probing the role of a manager in a story packed with shell accounts, playboys and a $250-million yacht called “Equanimity.”

I’m a tad low on equanimity after reading the latest YouGov poll for Handelsblatt Global. While most European citizens (yes Britain too) want more Europe – joint European foreign policy, trade and even an army as well as the right to work elsewhere – they also want more national sovereignty. There’s a destructively low level of trust in the EU’s top institutions, and respondents were pessimistic about the future of the bloc, expecting more departures after Brexit. As EU leaders meet in Salzburg to discuss Brexit, I am typing with my fingers crossed. Stop smiling, Vladimir.

To subscribe to this newsletter or check out our other newsletters, click here.

We hope you enjoyed this article

Make sure to sign up for our free newsletters too!