We have said it before, but VW’s Dieselgate will never end. The German auto giant has been busy pivoting to electric cars to repair its tainted image, but now it has opened a new offensive: pursuing its old boss, the glowering Martin Winterkorn, for damages.
Herr Prof. Dr. Dr. h.c. mult. Winterkorn was always one of the fun auto execs to run into at an auto show. By “fun” I do not mean that he told good jokes, or gave good quotes. He was always in a stiff double-breasted suit, glaring down at all other humans present. The fun of Winterkorn is that the guy looked like a Bond villain and talked like one, too, if you ever heard him talk at all.
This is all to say that nobody had farther to fall than Winterkorn, who got the boot out of VW in the midst of the Dieselgate cheating scandal and faced charges from German prosecutors over it in 2019. What’s new is that Volkswagen itself is now seeking damages from its former king, as the Financial Times reports:
The carmaker’s supervisory board “decided at its meeting today to assert claims for damages” against Winterkorn and [former Audi boss Rupert] Stadler “on account of breaches of the duty of care under stock corporation law.”
Both Winterkorn, who resigned as chief executive in September 2015 claiming to know nothing about the affair, and Stadler, who remained at Audi but was arrested in 2018, are facing criminal charges in Germany.
Stadler is on trial in Munich but Winterkorn’s case has been delayed several times because of the pandemic.
VW’s statement on Friday is a significant departure from the company’s early claim that the fault was the result of a rogue employee. However, it said the investigation had found that no managers other than Winterkorn and Stadler had breached their duties.
What’s not clear to me is how much Volkswagen is trying to get revenge on its dour old boss, get some money back, or how much it is trying to cover its tracks. Better said, I don’t know how much the current executives at VW want everyone to think that only the old guys are to blame, that the “old VW” is gone and a “new VW” is in charge. I certainly hope it’s the former not the latter. But you don’t have to ask me about it. You can ask how many people think “Old GM” really went away after 2009.