The ongoing Volkswagen diesel cheating scandal was newly roiled by this week's news that the company's U.S. CEO Michael Horn was leaving the company, effective immediately.
But owners and regulators can't move forward until the other shoe drops: the EPA and California's regulators must approve a plan by VW to update or buy back the affected vehicles.
With the six-month anniversary of the whole mess just a week away, VW's German labor leader has warned that hefty fines levied by the EPA on Volkwswagen could hurt the company's workers.
Volkswagen's assembly plant in Chattanooga, Tennessee, has about 2,200 employees. It now builds the Passat mid-size sedan, and is being tooled up to build a large SUV as well, which is likely to be unveiled by the end of this year.
Bernd Osterloh, chairman of VW Group's works council, said on Tuesday that the company might have to cut jobs in the U.S. as well as Europe if the EPA imposes a fine in the billions of dollars. He also sits on the company's board of directors.
The U.S. Justice Department has sued Volkswagen for up to $46 billion for deliberately violating U.S. regulations and delivering almost 600,000 VW, Audi, and Porsche diesel vehicles that contained "defeat device" software to ignore emission controls.
Consumer Reports tests 2015 Volkswagen Jetta TDI diesel in 'cheat mode,' October 2015 [video frame]
"Should the future viability of Volkswagen be endangered by an unprecedented financial penalty," Osterloh told 20,000 VW workers, "this will have dramatic social consequences."
His comments were reported by Reuters on Tuesday, the same day he spoke at VW's headquarters in Wolfsburg, Germany.
"We very much hope that the U.S. authorities also have an eye for this social and employment-political dimension," Osterloh said.
While VW Group set aside €6.7 billion ($7.4 billion) last fall to cover the costs of the scandal, some analysts argue that the total cost to VW could be far higher than that.
The company took the all-but-unprecedented step of postponing its annual shareholder meeting by two months, to June 28, though under German law it must release its 2015 financial results by the end of April.
Matthias Müller, CEO of the entire VW Group, said at the same worker meeting that the scandal would impose "substantial and painful" financial damage on the company.
2012 Volkswagen Passat TDI Six-Month Road Test
Attitudes toward the scandal among owners, regulators, VW employees, and the public differ substantially in the U.S. and Germany.
Hundreds of thousands of TDI diesel owners in the U.S. face dramatically lower values for their cars and complete uncertainty over how any approved modifications to make their cars meet emission standards will affect both performance and fuel efficiency.
And U.S. regulators are expected to impose harsh penalties on a company, one of the world's three largest automakers, that deliberately violated U.S. law for many years.
While VW Group officials clearly recognize the gravity of the situation—and numerous executives resigned shortly after the news broke in September—many ordinary Germans continue to support VW, the company's largest employer.
Ceremonies opening photovoltaic solar power field at Volkswagen plant in Chattanooga, Tennessee
Some even suggest that U.S. emission rules—which have been significantly tougher than European Union rules for almost a decade—are unrealistically low, or that the scandal is an attempt by U.S. makers to undercut VW's diesel expertise.
Meanwhile, the six-month anniversary of the scandal comes one week from today, on Friday, March 18.
Privately, some communications professionals suggest that Volkswagen's tactics in handling the public-relations crisis could one day be viewed in a similar light as those of Exxon during the Exxon Valdez oil spill of 1989.