VW board draws up emissions crisis plan; US chief to apologize


Berlin/Washington (dpa) – The head of Volkswagen in the United States will offer an apology for the company’s manipulation of emissions software in its diesel cars in testimony before Congress Thursday, according to a company statement.

Michael Horn released prepared remarks Wednesday ahead of his scheduled appearance before a US congressional committee.

“On behalf of our company, and my colleagues in Germany, I would like to offer a sincere apology for Volkswagen’s use of a software programme that served to defeat the regular emissions testing regime,” the statement says.

According to the remarks, Horn also will say the company has withdrawn its application to US regulators to certify its 2016 models pending full disclosure of all aspects of their emission systems.

VW would “fully cooperate” with all authorities and “will work to ensure that this will never happen again,” the statement goes on to say.

Earlier Wednesday VW board chairman Hans Dieter Poetsch promised a major revamp of the embattled German carmaker along with greater transparency, as it struggles to emerge from the diesel emissions testing scandal that has rocked the group.

“We have to tackle the current crisis,” the 64-year-old Poetsch said after VW’s 20-member supervisory board confirmed him to the post as its new chairman.

“This group also needs changes – in structures, decision-making processes and in working together,” said Poetsch, who has been the VW group’s finance chief since 2003.

Poestch takes over from Berthold Huber, who has been acting chairman since April following the resignation of Ferdinand Piech amid a power struggle at the company.

VW also has until the end of Wednesday to submit to Germany’s transport authority a timetable for modifying about 11 million diesel-powered models of its VW, Audi, Skoda and Seat brands equipped with illegal software aimed at cheating on exhaust tests in countries around the world.

The carmaker will begin recalling the cars fitted with the software in January with the aim of completing the process by the end of next year, the company’s new chief executive, Matthias Mueller, told the daily Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung on Wednesday.

The former head of VW’s luxury sports carmaker Porsche, Mueller took over last month from Martin Winterkorn, who resigned as group chief in the wake of the scandal, which could cost the company more than 18 billion dollars in fines in the United States alone.

Based in the northern German city of Wolfsburg, VW has said that 2.8 million of the vehicles fitted with the software are in Germany.

The District Court in the nearby city of Braunschweig on Wednesday gave the green light to Poetsch’s appointment as the group’s new supervisory board chairman. The court was acting on the request of the board’s five-member executive committee, a court spokeswoman told dpa.

The legal intervention became necessary after VW last week cancelled an extraordinary annual general meeting set for next month.

But the court said Poetsch’s appointment woule be valid only until the next annual general meeting, a date for which has still not been set.

The company’s major shareholders – the Piech and Porsche families – secured the backing of the board’s executive committee last week to name Poetsch as chairman.

VW appointed Poetsch despite questions as to whether he was the best candidate for the post because he had been finance director during the period when the emission manipulations were alleged to have taken place.

In particular, the unions argued that the company should use the chance to appoint a new board chairman to signal a new approach in the carmaker’s efforts to restore global trust in the wake of the scandal.

Poetsch acknowledged in comments to reporters that the auto group faced “an enormous challenge,” but added that the company will be stronger after the crisis.

The supervisory board, which includes key VW shareholders, management and union representatives, also announced that VW financial services chief Frank Witter, 56, will succeed Poetsch as chief financial officer.

The problem for VW in preparing a crisis strategy is that the affair is now in the hands of lawyers around the world, making it difficult for the company to estimate the final cost of the scandal.

While prosecutors in VW’s key global markets have launched investigations into the group, individual shareholders and customers also have begun taking legal action against the company.

On Wednesday, a German VW customer sued the carmaker for damages in the wake of the scandal, saying she wanted to return her car to the group and get her money back.