It was an open secret within Volkswagen’s engineering department that the maker was cheating on diesel emissions testing, according to a report in an influential German newspaper.
The Sueddeutsche Zeitung report contends that a number of managers, as well as their staff either knew about, or were directly involved in, the efforts to create a so-called “defeat device” intended to fool emissions testers into believing VW’s 2.0-liter turbodiesel complied with tough U.S. emissions mandates. But a culture of collective secrecy kept engineers from advising corporate executives of the problems they faced.
“Within the company there was a culture of ‘we can do everything’, so to say something cannot be done, was not acceptable,” Sueddeutsche Zeitung said, claiming to quote comments from a whistleblower who came clean as part of an ongoing, internal investigation within Volkswagen.
Earlier news coverage from Germany suggested dozens of VW insiders have been coming clean as part of that investigation.
That would suggest that far more VW employees were involved in the subterfuge than the company has suggested. Top executives, including U.S. boss Michael Horn, as well as global VWAG CEO Matthias Mueller, have repeatedly insisted the cheating was done by a “handful” of engineers.
And Mueller took a similar tone this week. Responding to the German news report, he told reporters, “No one has spoken with me,” during an industry conference in Europe on Thursday. “You got the information from some sources who have no idea about the whole matter.”
Mueller has tried to downplay the scandal and move on, promising to launch a fix this month for the 11 million vehicles equipped with the suspect software. But so far, VW has been unable to reach an agreement with either the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency or the California Air Resources Board on a plan that they can accept.
Mueller also came under fire as a result of comments made to an NPR reporter during the Detroit Auto Show. He initially said VW “did not lie” about the diesel cheating, insisting it was the result of not properly understanding U.S. rules and regulations.
(For more on the controversy surrounding Mueller’s comments, Click Here.)
Almost 500,000 of VW’s diesel vehicles sold in the U.S. were equipped with the defeat device.
(VW appoints new boss for North America. Click Here for the full story.)
During his talk with reporters this week, Mueller said he would not disclose any of the details of the ongoing internal investigation. Conducted by the U.S. law firm Jones Day, the plan is to publicly release the results on April 21st for the carmaker’s annual general meeting, or AGM.
“Is it really so difficult to accept that we are obliged by stock market law to submit a report to the AGM on April 21,” said Mueller, “and that it is not possible for us to say anything beforehand?”
VW’s troubles aren’t likely to end with the release of the report. The company is facing lawsuits around the world related to the emissions cheating. That includes more than 450 lawsuits that have been consolidated and will be handled by a federal court in San Francisco. The U.S. Department of Justice, meanwhile, this month filed suit against the maker on behalf of the EPA.
All told, VW faces the possibility of paying out billions of dollars in fines, fees and settlements. The company has so far set aside over $7 billion to handle the matter, while also setting up a credit line that could give it access to about $20 billion more.
(VW lands in second place for 2015 behind global auto sales leader Toyota. Click Here for the story.)