By on August 18, 2018

Herbert Diess Jetta 2017

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]

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17 Comments on “Documents Show Volkswagen CEO Diess Knew About Illegal Devices...”

  • avatar

    What gets lost in these discussions is how close VW actually was to full compliance. For example – with the V6 diesels, the main problem was the urea tank needed to be refilled ever 4K miles. VW execs insisted that it needed to go 5k miles so the tank could be refilled during a regular oil change. Presumably they could have added a trunk bracket for a 1L bottle to get the customer that last 1000 miles. But they didn’t think that was an appropriate solution.

    For the 4cyl cars, full compliance would have cost a few hundred EUR more but again VW execs insisted the engineers reach full compliance with a budget what was 250 EUR too low.

    • 0 avatar

      Or….why not just make the urea tank big enough to go 5k miles?

      • 0 avatar

        No room. Changes could have been made to make room but that would have cost money.

      • 0 avatar

        Keep in mind all that goes into building a car. If things are tight in the engine bay your best bet might be an auxiliary tank elsewhere in the vehicle. But then you need a tank and sensors and a transfer pump and the code to manage the transfer. And then how will you fill the auxiliary tank? Does it have its own access point or do you fill the main tank and wait 2 min while it transfers back to the aux tank and then fill it the rest of the way up.

        Or maybe move things around in the engine bay. But now the AC compressor is too close to the exhaust manifold so you need a heat shield and now we need to reroute the flow of refrigerant between the ac compressor and the condenser. But those kinds of changes are part of designing any vehicle.

        None of these changes are all that difficult they just cost time and money. Far easier and cheaper in the short run to cheat.

      • 0 avatar

        Here are the actual numbers if you’re curious:

        “The diesel Touareg needed eight liters of urea per 1,000 kilometers (621 miles). The intended tank had only a 16-liter capacity. A Touareg driver would have to replenish AdBlue every 2,000 kilometers (1,243 miles). The engineers wanted the tank to be refilled during the scheduled service visit after 10,000 kilometers (6,210 miles).”

        The aux tank would need to be 16 gallons or 2.1 cubic feet.

        • 0 avatar

          The Touareg’s DEF reservoir is under the rear cargo floor beneath the spare tire. Eliminating the spare and the excess under floor storage would have freed up substantial space to expand the primary reservoir.

    • 0 avatar

      It was more than just the AdBlue issue. In addition to increased DEF consumption, “fixed” Touaregs drive very differently after the required modification. Different throttle response, different transmission logic.

  • avatar

    Albert Speer and the Posen Conference come to mind.

  • avatar

    Could they have done nothing to the cars and just purchased offsets?
    1- World wide program like a cash for clunkers and removed worse polluting cars from use?
    2- Plant 9 zillion trees per polluting diesel or what ever number?


    • 0 avatar
      Carroll Prescott

      Yeah, that would have been funny – plant millions of trees and then done an Algore and said what a green person I am for having a house that consumes huge amounts of fossil fuels but I planted many trees to cover my droppings in the cat box. Meanwhile, he flies all over the world with his minions protesting what the rest of us do while he is spewing tons of CO2 into the atmosphere.

      VW was stupid – should have bought carbon credits and then made the environmental nazis have to answer that loophole!

  • avatar

    It didn’t take VW long to figure out this scandal was going to cost them billions.

    Those of us in the service department were briefed a couple of days before the goodwill packages were announced and it was said that this scandal was expected to cost about $40 billion. That’s why some of the first reports on here mentioned $40 billion and then were retracted when the magnitude of that figure was understood. But it turns out the number wasn’t too far off.

  • avatar
    SCE to AUX

    The headline doesn’t match the content of the article.

    As the article states, Mr Deiss inherited this mess, and can hardly be held accountable for years of cheating by others. How much he contributed to the subsequent cover up remains to be seen.

  • avatar

    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….

  • avatar
    Carroll Prescott

    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.

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