Did Volkswagen CEO Martin Winterkorn know about the company’s “defeat device” built into its diesel vehicles, and the impending scandal, as early as May 2014?
Based on some information recently leaked to a German newspaper, Bild-Zeitung, it’s become a possibility he might have known that U.S. officials were starting to ask very pointed questions about emissions of some of the automaker’s diesel passenger vehicles.
That’s when a letter was sent, by an employee known internally as “Winterkorn’s fireman,” to the CEO, alerting him that authorities were looking for a test-recognition mode for an emissions “defeat device”—the one that permitted some Volkswagen diesel engines to burn more cleanly during official tests yet pollute up to 40 times the allowed levels of nitrogen oxides during other types of driving.
The source didn't verify that the CEO actually read the letter, which must have been sent around the time when regulators were indeed asking about emission levels at the tailpipe, and how they didn’t coincide with test levels.
VW then said that these were outlying real-world conditions, and that the tests had “technical issues.”
Volkswagen plans to release a full report on the diesel-emissions issue April 21, and it’s postponed its annual meeting, which had been scheduled for that date.
Winterkorn resigned in September, just after the diesel emissions scandal broke, and said then that he hadn’t known about the defeat-device manipulation.
An earlier leak from the report, meanwhile, called the manipulation “an open secret” within the automaker’s engine development department.
Volkswagen continues to flaunt that its workaround was legal in Europe. But if higher-ranking company officials were aware of the deception specific to U.S. tests, they may be subject to criminal prosecution, and the company could be subject to further scrutiny.