While it hasn’t turned into the stampede some observers have predicted, there’s a growing line of senior managers at Volkswagen AG heading for the door.
The latest to tender his resignation is Andreas Lampersbach, the head of corporate communications for the embattled automaker. That announcement comes barely a week after Walter Maria de Silva, the well-respected director of design for Volkswagen, handed in his own notice.
The departures come at a tough time for the German maker which is struggling to get a handle on a global scandal ignited by revelations it had secretly installed software in 11 million diesel vehicles designed to cheat on emissions tests.
‘This departure is a loss to our company,” said Hans-Gerd Bode, Head of Group Communications for Volkswagen. “Over the last few weeks in particular, Andreas Lampersbach excelled in demonstrating his outstanding communication skills. During this critical period he showed wisdom and a sense of responsibility in his handling of communications for Volkswagen.”
Lampersbach originally worked for the truck company MAN, which Volkswagen acquired in 2011. He only assumed his post as corporate PR chief in April, soon landing neck deep in the worst crisis the automaker has faced in decades. The 53-year-old Lampersbach served as the global lynchpin in handling VW’s response to the diesel crisis that leaves it facing billions of dollars in fines, hundreds of consumer lawsuits and the possibility of criminal charges in several countries, including the U.S.
Just last week, the automaker acknowledged “irregularities” in the emissions systems of another 800,000 vehicles, though it has denied new charges by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency that it also cheated on the emissions systems used for its 3.0-liter diesel engine in products sold by Audi and Porsche, as well as the Volkswagen brand.
(VW, Porsche and Audi order stop-sale of suspect diesels. Click Here for the story.)
Stepping into the communications roll will be 47-year-old Eric Felber, at least on an acting basis. No decision yet on a permanent replacement.
The shake-up at VW has left big holes in a number of senior positions, notably in design where the widely respected da Silva plans to retire at the end of the month after 17 years with the VW Group. That has included stints with brands Seat, Lamborghini and Audi, the latter where the designer left his very personal thumbprint on models such as the A5.
VW has not yet announced a replacement for the 64-year-old designer who will remain an “advisor,” after his retirement, the company said. Da Silva was considered a close ally of ousted CEO Martin Winterkorn, though unlike the former chief executive, the designer has not been linked to the diesel emissions scandal.
(VW offering $1,000 goodwill bonus to U.S. diesel owners. Click Here for the latest.)
Winterkorn was one of the first to be unseated by the scandal, though he initially intended to maintain several secondary assignments with the company. The executive is being scrutinized as part of several investigations, including one by the U.S. Justice Department. While it is not clear whether Winterkorn was directly aware of the emissions cheating, it has been suggested he created a climate of fear that left subordinates determined to do whatever it took to avoid his wrath.
Among the other VW executives caught up in the scandal, Audi R&D Chief Ulirch Hackenberg and VW brand executive Heinz Jakob Neusser have been suspended.
Meanwhile, Winfried Vahland, the former head of the Czech-based Skoda brand, resigned from his post as head of the VW North America Region just three weeks after that post was created in late September. No explanation was given for the departure of the 25-year VW veteran – who was supposed to help provide a measure of stability amidst the current crisis.
(For more on Vahland’s departure, Click Here.)
More departures appear likely in the weeks and months ahead. As part of an internal investigation, VW has told lower-level employees they won’t face penalties for whistle-blowing, but senior managers face more serious repercussions if they were involved in the emissions cheating scandal.