Volkswagen Had To Decide To Cheat More Than Eight Years Ago: Report

Illustration for article titled Volkswagen Had To Decide To Cheat More Than Eight Years Ago: Report

While Volkswagen’s cheating on emissions tests is pretty much common knowledge at this point, a whole bunch of questions remain unanswered. One of those is how long the company’s been doing it, and how long it planned to do it. Thanks to a German minister’s interview with Reuters, we now know that the answer is somewhere along the lines of “a long time.”


When now-former Volkswagen CEO Martin Winterkorn resigned from the company, the company board and a whole bunch of people rushed to his side in various ways. In the board’s statement, they said:

The Executive Committee notes that Professor Dr. Winterkorn had no knowledge of the manipulation of emissions data. The Executive Committee has tremendous respect for his willingness to nevertheless assume responsibility and, in so doing, to send a strong signal both internally and externally.

Yes, Professor Dr. Winterkorn, hero, for jumping on that grenade. Even though he could’ve stopped this years ago, probably? Anyways. Even assuming that Winterkorn actually had no idea this was happening (big stretch, I know), and the Volkswagen board is completely trustworthy at this point (even bigger stretch, I know), German Economy Minister Sigmar Gabriel inferred to Reuters that it’s plausible that Winterkorn didn’t know, because the decision to do this sort of thing was made while Winterkorn was still at Audi:

“I have great respect for his decision. He is taking responsibility for something that happened when he was not chief executive of Volkswagen but rather at Audi,” Gabriel said on the sidelines of the Frankfurt auto show on Wednesday.

Again, Winterkorn, Hero For Jumping On That Grenade (never mind for one second that Winterkorn was a member of the VW Group Board of Management for Technical Development since 2000, also).

But as Winterkorn didn’t become head of Volkswagen overall until 2007, that means that the company was either doing, or planning to do, the ol’ emissions-switcheroo for at least eight years now.


Eight years is a long time. To put it in perspective, this was the Billboard No. 1 when Winterkorn officially became the head of the company:

Yes, exactly. Winterkorn somehow didn’t know that a strategic decision that had the potential for $18 billion to be riding on it was weighing over his head since Beyonce’s Irreplaceable was still a thing. And it’s also being argued that Winterkorn didn’t know about the emissions defeat devices despite being on the Board of Management for Technical Development for the seven years preceding that.


Either everything is making sense, or nothing is. Choose which one in the comments below!

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PotbellyJoe and 42 others

Let’s argue that he had limited knowledge of the scheme. One engineer or programmer or team of them says to him, “Don’t worry we know how to get the TDIs through testing without it being an issue.”

Is Winterkorn savvy enough to know that cheating is afoot?

As a CEO, he is ultimately the figurehead for the company, but being the head doesn’t mean he knows the intricate details of how specific tech works. He is in the Feature-Benefit world, not the intricate details world.

His team would tell him that the cars are 5-star crash rated, not that they had to add a bazooka beam to the front doors to pass crash-tests. There is more culpability for the office of product planning and people who do concern themselves with the intricacies.

His position on the tech board is a little more damning, but again, people who are the leaders see the forest and aren’t going to know the trees individually. They know their engines are X-times more efficient than something else, or that a specific patent that is a game-changer is something worth crowing about to the press, but they’re not going to concern themselves with a program that cheats a test unless they, themselves thought of it.

Winterkorn is a convenient fall-guy; he’s the flag-bearer, but I doubt he bears a lot of the culpability.