Documents Show Volkswagen CEO Diess Knew About Illegal Devices

Steph Willems
by Steph Willems
documents show volkswagen ceo diess knew about illegal devices

Unsealed documents from a German prosecutor’s office shed light on current Volkswagen CEO Herbert Diess’ knowledge of the costly diesel emissions scandal. Back in late July, 2015, Diess, having just taken the helm of the VW brand after arriving from BMW, sat in on a fateful meeting, German magazine Der Spiegel reports.

It seems that, for the executives at that table, the key to avoiding prosecution depends on how dumb they can claim to be.

In Diess’ case, he was a newcomer, having only just arrived at the company on July 1st. The meeting took place July 27th — less than two full months before the U.S. EPA blew the lid off the simmering scandal. At the time, the environmental regulator wanted answers after real-world tests showed sky-high levels of air pollution emanating from the tailpipes of diesel VWs.

It was later learned that years earlier, the automaker outfitted its four- and six-cylinder diesel engines with emissions-cheating “defeat devices” designed to fool regulators. The cars’ emissions control systems only turned on while the vehicle was undergoing static tests.

Der Spiegel‘s report, picked up by Reuters, reveal senior engineers and execs got together to discuss how to deal with the EPA, which was withholding certification for new diesel vehicles until VW explained itself. With former CEO Martin Winterkorn leading the meeting, the group strategized how it could win over the EPA’s trust and get the much-needed certification. All of this comes from a VW defense document filed with a Braunschweig court in February.

The German magazine reports that Winterkorn asked Diess if BMW ever used defeat devices. No, the company’s rival hadn’t, he said. As the meeting wrapped up, a VW employee cautioned both men to leave behind the copies of the presentation they had just seen, Der Spiegel claims. It would be better for them, the employee said, if they weren’t in possession of it.

VW’s official response to the report is as follows:

“The contents of the discussion, where Martin Winterkorn and Herbert Diess were present, cannot be fully reconstructed, because the recollections of the people who were present partially deviate.”

It’s up to the prosecutors and courts to determine who said what, the automaker stated, adding that it was not in violation of disclosure laws because, at the time, it didn’t grasp just how large the scandal’s impact would be.

As head of the company at the time, Winterkorn, who resigned days after the scandal broke, is likely the investigation’s main focus. He’s been the subject of a German probe for quite some time now, with American authorities laying charges last year. Diess, on the other hand, inherited this mess. As a freshly arrived brand boss back in the summer of 2015, he wasn’t calling the shots, nor could he have had prior knowledge of the devices.

The court filing also shows VW hired a law firm four days after the meeting to determine just how much regulatory trouble it might be in. Four days before the EPA came down with all its might, VW’s finance chief, current chairman Hans Dieter Poetsch, estimated the company might face penalties of $172 million.

The bill for VW’s diesel deception eventually reached $27 billion.

[Image: Volkswagen]

Join the conversation
3 of 17 comments
  • Tylanner Tylanner on Aug 19, 2018

    If VW couldn't sustain the revenue through this mess they sink but they were in such a healthy position before the scandal that they had enormous margin....they could afford to defraud.... When misleading and malicious compliance are cost-beneficial the regulatory system is not doing it's job forcefully enough....

  • Carroll Prescott Carroll Prescott on Aug 20, 2018

    I have mixed feelings here. I value a clean environment but don't hold any faith that a government standard is valid whatsoever since those who set these rules often use data that agrees with them and then tosses out equally valid data points that disagree with them; in short, I view government emission standards to be bogus - and if you game them, it is up to the government to be up to the task of changing the rules to prevent that type of gaming; this is not like violating a safety standard that is based on facts (you can't fake physics like you can faking greenhouse data points - cherry picking what works for you and ignoring everything else). I think those who gamed the system should lose their jobs but not pay a dime in compensation or prison time for giving the government what it deserves - finding a loophole and exploiting it. This is all hogwash. The fact remains that even the gamed cars and trucks were relatively clean and certainly cleaner than non-emission equipped vehicles. This whole thing is bogus.

    • 30-mile fetch 30-mile fetch on Aug 20, 2018

      Yes, the government should listen to the guy who doesn't know the difference between carbon dioxide and nitrogen oxides.

  • Jim Bonham Thanks.
  • Luke42 I just bought a 3-row Tesla Model Y.If Toyota made a similar vehicle, I would have bought that instead. I'm former Prius owner, and would have bought a Prius-like EV if it were available.Toyota hasn't tried to compete with the Model Y. GM made the Bolt EUV, and Ford made the Mach-E. Tesla beat them all fair and square, but Toyota didn't even try.[Shrug]
  • RHD Toyota is trying to hedge their bets, and have something for everyone. They also may be farther behind in developing electric vehicles than they care to admit. Japanese corporations sometimes come up with cutting-edge products, such as the Sony Walkman. Large corporations (and not just Japanese corporations) tend to be like GM, though - too many voices just don't get heard, to the long-term detriment of the entity.
  • Randy in rocklin The Japanese can be so smart and yet so dumb. I'm America-Japanese and they really can be dumb sometimes like their masking paranoia.
  • Bunkie The Flying Flea has a fascinating story and served, inadvertently, to broaden the understanding of aircraft design. The crash described in the article is only part of the tale.