Time Running Out For Audi CEO As Dieselgate Closes In
Even as other senior executives and lead engineers were falling like leaves in the autumn, Rupert Stadler, Audi’s chief executive, seemed to live a charmed corporate existence. For example, when Dieselgate broke a year ago, within two weeks Martin Winterkorn, Volkswagen Group chief executive – and Stadler’s boss – was pushed aside.
Then, when other senior-level executives like Michael Horn, Volkswagen of American chief executive, were pushed out, Stadler’s Teflon® coating remained intact.
CEO Remains Above Fray
And, even when Ulrich Hackenberg, Audi’s head of research and development, was suspended about nine months ago and later quit over his role in the emissions cheating scandal, Stadler was still good.
In fact, as recently as this past weekend when rumors about the impending departure of Hackenberg’s replacement Stefan Knirsch began to circulate, Stadler seemed immune from the poisonous scandal that has claimed as many as 40 other senior executives and engineers,
The situation changed yesterday when a story appeared in Germany’s Der Spiegel magazine that indicates Jones Day investigators have turned their investigative radar onto Stadler. The probers are seeking to find out if the Audi chief knew anything about the “defeat devices” that have cost so many their positions and the automaker possibly as much $30 billion now. They also are seeking information about exactly when Stadler knew about the devices. Jones Day is the American law firm that was hired to conduct a thorough top-to-bottom investigation the Dieselgate scandal.
As reported by dailykanban.com and Forbes, VW insiders are frankly surprised it has taken the probe this long to get to Stadler. Early in the scandal, the automaker was reported rife with talk about Stadler, and an impending departure. The gossip mill tabbed Dietmar Voggenreiter as Stadler’s potential successor.
Audi Deeply Involved
The Forbes piece continued that “Audi is so deeply involved in the Dieselgate morass that it would be a miracle if the boss did not know.” The 3.0-liter diesel engine used in Audi’s larger cars and SUVs had the cheatware installed. There is also no Environmental Protection Agency- or California Air Resources Board-approved solution in sight.
And, if Audi must buy back vehicles, a requirement under the class action lawsuit settlement already negotiated or 2.0-liter four-cylinder diesels, Volkswagen will have to fork over additional billions.
Forbes quotes the German publication Handelsblatt, in identifying Audi as the “technological cradle of all Dieselgate cheating at VW, 17 years ago.” Engineers at the automaker determined the means to get around the rapidly tightening emissions standards.
In 2005, Volkswagen did reject Audi’s ideas, perhaps because the automaker still believed they were “deemed illegal way back then,” according to the Suedddeutsche Zeitung. That rejection, though, only lasted a couple of years as the plans were put into motion in VW-made turbodiesels in 2008.
The paper, Forbes noted, was a likely import from Ingolstadt, where Audi’s headquarters is located. Former Audi engineers, working for their parent VW placed the software in play.