VW's Winterkorn Responds to Questions

VWMartin Winterkorn, Volkswagen's former CEO, responded to what the The New York Times calls "polite grilling" by the German government about the emissions scandal.

Winterkorn has a tough time defending himself when the company already admitted using software to cheat emissions tests. Several executives were indicted, including many who reported directly to him. As the Times reports, "Volkswagen's plea agreement with the Justice Department in Washington last week left no doubt that the fraud was the work of dozens, if not hundreds, of employees, rather than the result of a handful of rogue engineers as the company had first claimed."

But Winterkorn said he didn't know about the "defeat device" and "never did I have the impression that anyone was afraid to speak an open word with me." The Times article further questions the likelihood that Winterkorn knew nothing:

There is some reason to doubt Mr. Winterkorn's assertion. Mr. Gottweis, a Volkswagen executive who specialized in solving technical emergencies around the world, warned in a memo in May 2014 that American regulators were likely to investigate "whether Volkswagen implemented a test detection system in the engine control unit software (so-called defeat device)."

The memo was included in a stack of weekend reading given to Mr. Winterkorn at the time, but Volkswagen has said it was not clear if Mr. Winterkorn had read it. Mr. Gottweis reported directly to Mr. Winterkorn, however, and it is deemed unlikely that a warning from an executive known internally as "the fireman" would have been ignored.

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  • Do you believe Winterkorn's stance? Why or why not?
  • How does Winterkorn benefit from continuing to deny knowledge of the defeat device? If he is lying, what are the potential consequences to him personally and professionally of admitting the truth?
  • Some see this testimony as a missed opportunity for Volkswagen. Can you explain this point of view?