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VW Americas Chief Dodges Bullet

But CEO Horn gets a new boss, and management shake-up expected to continue.

by on Sep.29, 2015

Michael Horn, head of VW of America, was all smiles accepting the North American Car of the Year Trophy for the new VW Golf.

(This story corrects and expands upon an earlier story that had incorrectly reported VWoA CEO Michael Horn would lose his job in the U.S.)

Michael Horn, the head of Volkswagen’s U.S. operations, has dodged the bullet. But while he won’t find himself among the growing list of senior VW executives ousted in the wake of a diesel emissions testing scam, the VW veteran will find himself reporting to a new boss as part of a broader corporate shake-up.

Winfried Wahland, who has been overseeing Volkswagen AG’s Czech-based Skoda brand, has been named director of the new North American Region office, and he will take a seat on VWAG’s all-powerful Supervisory Board.

The Journal of Record!

Horn had been expected to lose his job in the wake of the scandal touched off by the discovery that Volkswagen had secretly rigged its small diesel engines to pass emissions tests. On the road, however, the so-called “defeat device” was programmed to permit the engines to produce as much as 40 times the permissible level of smog-causing oxides of nitrogen.

He would have been one of a number of top executives to fall in a management shake-up that began last week when VWAG CEO Martin Winterkorn tendered his resignation. Winterkorn accepted responsibility for the emissions testing scam yet also claim not to have known about it before the cheating program was disclosed by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency on Sept. 18.

(VW scandal amps up anti-diesel movement worldwide. Click Here for details.)

Winfried Vahland, the new head of Volkswagen's North American Region starts November 1st.

How the realignment of North American operations will work remains to be seen, but it appears to reflect VW’s desperation to head off years of declining sales, a situation expected to grow worse in the wake of the latest scandal.

Horn, a 26-year VW veteran, took over as head of VW of America early last year as part of the company’s increasingly frantic bid to reverse declining U.S. sales. Like his predecessor, Horn put an emphasis on diesels as a way to differentiate Volkswagen from rivals like Toyota, Honda and Chevrolet. During the last several years, those “oil burners” have been making up about a quarter of the company’s U.S. sales.

VW had billed its 2.0-liter “clean” diesel as a way to get low emissions, high mileage and the sort of performance that other green alternatives, such as hybrids, couldn’t match.

(New VW CEO Mueller faces long list of major problems. Click Here for the latest.)

Audi R&D Chief Hackenberg -- shown introducing the A7 h-tron Sportback Quattro -- was suspended.

The EPA earlier this month revealed the problem and said it impacted 482,000 VW vehicles equipped with four-cylinder diesels sold in the U.S. over the last seven years. Since then, the maker has confirmed the suspect code was installed on 11 million vehicles sold worldwide by the VW, Skoda, Audi and other brands.

Vahland, who has been serving most recently as the head of the Czech-based Skoda, previously served as VW’s Group CEO for China. Volkswagen is the largest manufacturer in that huge Asian market.

By the time Vahland officially takes on his new assignment on Nov. 1, observers expect to see a number of other management changes at Volkswagwen. The VW board already has suspended three of its top engineers, Heinz-Jakob Neusser, head of brand development at the flagship VW marque, Audi R&D chief  Ulrich Hackenberg, and Wolfgang Hatz, who had the same job at Porsche.

Former CEO Winterkorn, meanwhile, is now the key target in an investigation launched by federal prosecutors in Germany. And he could be a person of prime interest as the U.S. Justice Department gets its own criminal investigation underway.

(For more on the German investigation of former CEO Winterkorn, Click Here.)

VW faces a variety of legal challenges and abroad, criminal as well as civil. A number of class actions have already been launched, and the EPA could fine the maker more than $18 billion for violating the U.S. Clean Air Act.

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5 Responses to “VW Americas Chief Dodges Bullet”

  1. VW deny that Horn has been ousted and say that the head of North America is a new post, not one in which Vahland replaces Horn:

    • Paul A. Eisenstein says:

      We’re getting a follow-up indicating same, Robert. As has been the case, VW releases VERY unclear. We will pull story pending clarification.

      Paul E.

  2. GT101 says:

    As far as the emissions goes, VW did NOT rig the diesel engines to produce “up to 40 times the permissible level of smog causing oxides of nitrogen emissions”. Higher than acceptable NOx readings may result when the full emissions equipment is not functioning. Full emissions functioning is not required 100% of the time for the EPA and some other emissions laws in other countries.

    Actual testing with portable emissions equipment of vehicles driven about CA by a private group, showed between 15-35 times the NOx emissions at certain points of operation but this driving was NOT the same as the CA or EPA test cycle for diesel emissions. There is an EPA diesel emissions test cycle just like there is an EPA mpg test cycle that many people do not believe to be accurate or representative of real drivers because they can achieve as much as 30% lower mpg than what the EPA tests shows. In the EPA emissions test cycle there are specified test points and conditions. Vehicle operations outside these specific test points are not regulated thus the emissions results can be higher than the test points and still be in compliance with the emissions laws.

  3. EAJ says:

    GT101, you are correct in some aspects as the independent testing, as told by the media and snipets presented, doesn’t fully state what tests and methods were actually used. In other words,
    1. was this 15% – proposed 40% increase tested during open-loop operation (whether diesel, gasoline, E85, Ethanol, biofuel) every engine goes through an open-loop time until it warms up, then goes into closed loop.

    2. were their tests based on hard acceleration cycles, where in some cases the vehicle can go back into an open-loop like state re-read the parameters then settle back into closed-loop status once parameters settled

    3. ambient temperature, i.e. vehicles take longer to go into closed-loop when it’s dead of winter than in summer. Were the vehicles tested too soon

    These are just part of the tip of a very big Titanic-sinking iceberg. And with the revamped EPA test loop they actually rated my vehicle’s mpg lower but I’ve always gotten higher and with the newer rating, much higher.

    Not trying to come to VW’s defense but you have to look at EVERYTHING. But as in 1974, VW will pay the fines, do the retro-fit / update and move forward.

    • GT101 says:

      This is exactly my point that the numbers and info. being bantered about are primarily sensationalism intended to make a much bigger deal out of the situation than it is. I have no sympathy what so ever for VW violating the emissions laws. They deserve all of the fines and some of the lawsuits for their actions. My point is however repeating the same incorrect information over and over and over does not make it true and doing so is a disservice to the public – as was the Audi 5000 alleged unintended acceleration that never, ever actually happened.