Berlin (dpa) – Porsche chief Matthias Mueller is the frontrunner to become the new head of embattled German carmaker Volkswagen as the company prepares to unveil a major shake-up of its top management following the emissions testing scandal.
Company officials say VW’s supervisory board is likely to agree on Friday that Mueller will takeover from Martin Winterkorn, who resigned on Wednesday to take responsibility for the scandal that has plunged the group into the biggest crisis in its 78-year-history.
Several top VW managers are also expected to follow Winterkorn and to step down from their posts as the company battles to come to grips with the scandal, which followed VW’s admission that it equipped its diesel vehicles in the US with software to evade exhaust emissions tests.
Audi development chief Ulrich Hackenberg and Porsche research and development head Wolfgang Hatz are also expected to resign as part of the management revamp, company officials told dpa.
Porsche and the premium Audi are two of the VW group’s 12 brands.
Since taking over as Porsche chief in 2010, the 62-year-old Mueller has presided over the luxury sports carmaker expansion of sales and launch of new models.
German Transport Minister Alexander Dobrindt warned on Thursday that VW’s scheme for cheating US exhaust tests extended to cars across Europe with the company already bracing itself for a wave of class actions in both the US and Canada following the revelations.
Prosecutors in the Italian city of Turin have joined prosecutors in other parts of the world in launching an investigation into the VW emissions devices, the Italian news agency Ansa reported, adding that the probe could be extended to other car brands.
The European Commission called on the European Union’s 28 member states on Thursday to examine the implications of the scandal for their national car markets and to ensure that EU pollutant emission standards are met.
As the shockwaves from the VW scandal continued to reverberate around the world, the Nordic banking group Nordea told dpa it had halted buying new Volkswagen shares and bonds. A Nordea spokeswoman said it was unclear how long the stoppage would be in effect.
VW said earlier this week that about 11 million cars worldwide have been equipped with software aimed at cheating on pollution tests. In the US, this includes VW’s Audi, VW Jetta, Beetle, Golf and Passat diesel brands.
Germany’s Dobrindt said authorities would have a clearer picture in the next few days of how many cars in Europe might have been affected by the VW scheme, which could cost the company more than 18 billion dollars in fines in the US alone.
Concerns about other carmakers being engulfed by the scandal sent their shares tumbling on Thursday.
Shares in BMW were down about 6 per cent in late afternoon trading in Frankfurt despite the company denying a media report that one of its SUV models had failed the European emissions test.
The leading luxury carmaker insisted it complies with all requirements in every nation.
“The BMW Group has not manipulated [emission tests], and we comply in every country with both legal requirements and local test requirements,” the Munich-based company said.
Shares in Daimler, the maker of Mercedes Benz cars and German tyre-maker Continental, were also sold off on Thursday.
VW stock bucked the trend to chalk up a modest gain on Thursday, but only after the group’s shares crashed in the first two days of the week, wiping 26 billion euros off the value of the company as details of the cheating scheme emerged.
According to a report, Germany, France and Britain had previously lobbied the European Commission to keep loopholes that allowed Volkswagen – and potentially other car makers – to record lower readings in emissions tests.
The three nations “mounted a push to carry over loopholes” from the current testing system, devised in 1970 and updated in the 1990s, to a new UN-backed World Light Vehicles Test Procedure scheduled to replace it in 2017, the Guardian said, citing leaked documents.