Can Diesel Emission-Cheating Scandal Change VW Culture?

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2015 Volkswagen Golf TDI

2015 Volkswagen Golf TDI

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German automakers are both famously opaque in their management and remarkably leaky about their future product plans.

And in the wake of the Volkswagen diesel emission scandal, now in its sixth month, VW Group has been turned upside down, shaken, and stirred.

But will the changes be enough to break the company's historic arrogance and top-down culture, and ensure that such a thing can't happen again?

DON'T MISS: What Ordinary Germans Think About VW's Diesel Emission Scandal

That's a question that's quietly discussed among industry analysts and automotive journalists.

While it's one that can only really be answered in the fullness of time, at least one experienced writer has gone on record with his skepticism.

The industry is still assessing how adeptly Toyota and General Motors handled their unexpected-acceleration and ignition-key scandals, respectively, over the last five years.

Volkswagen plant

Volkswagen plant

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But thus far, the reaction to the scandal from VW Group headquarters in Wolfsburg, Germany, has been less than stellar.

Several of the company's most senior executives, including CEO Martin Winterkorn, resigned within weeks of the scandal breaking in mid-September.

But VW's German communications and public-relations efforts have been notably tone-deaf since then, likely exacerbated by different expectations of corporate behavior in the U.S. and in Germany.

ALSO SEE: VW To Release Diesel Cheating Report April 21, Annual Meeting Postponed

With emission standards more lax in the European Union than North America, and a stronger market position for VW, the modifications required to millions of TDI diesel cars are far less onerous in European countries.

In December, new VW Group CEO Matthias Müller met with U.S. senators and representatives critical of the carmaker, as well as with Environmental Protection Agency chief Gina McCarthy and U.S. Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker.

Two months later, more than half a million North American owners of TDI four- and six-cylinder diesel vehicles from VW, Audi, and Porsche still know nothing more about changes to their cars than they did five months ago.

Matthias Müller

Matthias Müller

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VW's first plan to modify the 482,000 four-cylinder cars that contain "defeat device" emission software was rejected by the California Air Resources Board as insufficient and lacking in detail about the fuel-economy and performance impacts of the proposed changes.

Following that, Volkswagen AG replaced the head of its U.S. legal department and said it would open a dedicated office in Washington, D.C.

Still, from the outside, it is unclear that all VW top executives yet grasp all the realities on the ground in North America.

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