Report: Many Volkswagen Managers Knew About 'Defeat Device'

Aaron Cole
by Aaron Cole

Many staffers and managers within Volkswagen’s engine-development department knew about Volkswagen’s illegal emissions-cheating “defeat device,” including a whistleblower who told other executives, German newspaper Sueddeutsche Zeitung reported ( via Reuters).

The report said that there was a “desperation” among engineers tasked with creating a U.S.-emissions compliant diesel engine. Rather than going to the executive board with a failed engine, workers developed the cheat system to avoid repercussions from higher-ups.

The report also indicates that Volkswagen alone — not alongside auto supplier Bosch — created the defeat device.

Sueddeutsche Zeitung cited a source within Volkswagen who helped manipulate software to evade emissions tests, but said the source alerted another senior executive outside the department who said nothing.

According to Reuters, Volkswagen in Germany didn’t comment on the report.

The German newspaper said the department took a “Schweigegelübde,” or “vow of silence” to protect themselves during the investigation because that’s just a nightmare for Volkswagen.

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  • Mathias Mathias on Jan 23, 2016

    I don't get this morbid fascination in the press -- German and American -- with who knew what when. Whether the company is cheating from the top down or whether cheating occurs because the top sets unrealistic expectations and then doesn't realize when the engineers cheat -- it comes to the same thing. VW management owns the whole thing and will have to see it through either way. This isn't eight grade. What impresses me is how long this information was kept from leaking out. German engineers are a breed apart, it would seem. I can't see this sort of thing staying secret at Ford or GM for three months.

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    • JimZ JimZ on Jan 24, 2016

      @NickS German Tour Guide: You vill find more on Germany's contributions to ze arts in ze pamphlets ve have provided. Brian : Yeah, about your pamphlet... uh, I'm not seeing anything about German history between 1939 and 1945. There's just a big gap. Tour guide: Everyone vas on vacation! On your left is Munich's first city hall, erected in 15... Brian : Wait, what are you talking about? Germany invaded Poland in 1939 and... Tour Guide: We were invited. Punch vas served. Check vit Poland. Brian : You can't just ignore those years. Thomas Mann fled to America because of Nazism's stranglehold on Germany. Tour guide: Nope, nope. He left to manage a Dairy Queen. Brian : A Dairy Queen? That's preposterous. Tour guide: I vill hear no more insinuations about the German people! Nothing bad happened! Sie werden sich hinsetzen! Sie werden ruhig sein! Sie werden nicht beleidigen Deutschland! Brian : Uh, is that a beer hall? Tour guide: (Snapping out of it) Oh yes, Munich is renowned for its historic beer halls.

  • Hreardon Hreardon on Jan 23, 2016

    I've said this in other threads, but it bears repeating here: this is a classic example of a corporate culture that does not provide space for healthy, reasonable questioning and pushback on the executive team on the part of the people doing the work. As I tell my team on a regular basis: I never have a problem with you giving me a solid, rational argument why something cannot be accomplished on the schedule and budget assigned; but we will have major issues if you obfuscate, outright lie, or lie through omission. The classic story of Piech's demands for 3mm panel gaps (as told by Bob Lutz) and how he accomplished said goal in the '90s is really all you need to know. And while I agree that this all reeks of a classic example of how German corporations operate, the stories of both the shuttles Challenger in 1986 and Columbia in 2003 carry similar lessons, as well as stories about how large investment banks and mortgage brokers were run in the lead up to the financial crisis in late 2007-2008. Not unique to Volkswagen, but the case studies that will be written in the coming years will be pretty darned interesting reads, no doubt.

    • Big Al from Oz Big Al from Oz on Jan 23, 2016

      hreardon, I agree with you totally in your analysis of how most and institutionalised organisation works. It isn't just industry that operates in this manner or just the Germans, but all, globally from poor African nations to large political parties, government, religion, etc. The outcome here will be quite predictable. The lowest possible (believable) denominator/s involved with this scandal become the scapegoat. We call it "damage control". Every institution will have it's own culture, but the basics are the same or very similar in how we as humans operate in large groups. You can almost flowchart the outcome by using the following tenets of how institutional culture works. 1. The institution comes first and must be protected at all costs, if the institution dies, so does all surrounding it, (in VW's case much money will be lost affecting millions of people) 2. the Chain of Command starting at the top must be protected, if the CoC is broken and distrust occurs, then those below will lack direction, (again a financial plus a leadership issue in maintaining the institution) and 3. once the above has been protected, we then move to the outcome, the victim or violator will only be given enough protection to not interfere with the minimisaton of fallout. This will ensure the best possible protection of the institution and CoC. Again, in VW's case the least possible financial cost.

  • Big Al from Oz Big Al from Oz on Jan 23, 2016

    This link makes for some very interesting reading with some startling claims. I wonder if the US motor vehicle industry is any better than the EU? Especially with some pollutant emissions that would not pass a 1993 emissions test. Have a read.

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    • DenverMike DenverMike on Jan 25, 2016

      @Big Al from Oz Heavy vehicles, especially with small engines, can easily drop way below the EPA average FE if not driven gingerly. What's your point? The EPA tests can be "gamed" no doubt, but nothing like EU "testing" letting OEMs slide through with a wink and a nod. And it's this EU influence and "one world" thinking that pressures US OEMs into too small of engines for their respective loads. This compounds the gaming here in the US. So it is possible to match EPA averages depending on how easy you are on the pedal, but meeting the European test averages would be an absolute joke! You're looking a small cars that can theoretically match the FE of Mopeds!!

  • Ol Shel Ol Shel on Jan 24, 2016

    Give VW execs credit for consistency. They aren't afraid to keep lying.