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Opinion

Opinion: House of Cars, Season 2

The latest sensational statements made by ex-VW patriarch Piëch raise doubts over his real intention behind making them. If it's a campaign to seek revenge, it could end up clobbering the firm, says DW's Henrik Böhme.

There is still no peace of mind for Volkswagen. Admittedly, it is one of the most boring sentences one can write. But that statement perfectly illustrates the prevailing feeling of unease at the German auto giant.

The recent news that VW has overtaken Toyota in annual sales - a goal that had been targeted for 2018 - was only a brief glimmer of hope in a hurricane raging around the German carmaker for months.

But becoming the world's top automotive firm has moved down on its list of priorities as the company intensifies its efforts to extricate itself from the recent diesel emissions scandal that cost it financial and reputational fortune.

Boehme Henrik Kommentarbild App

DW's Henrik Böhme

One scandal chases the next

It was not hard to imagine that the "Dieselgate" scam would negatively impact VW's reputation again and again.

Even the recent supposedly good piece of news from the US, involving a settlement with the Justice Department worth billions of dollars, had the effect of reopening old wounds by reminding VW buyers and shareholders that the firm had cheated all of them and, therefore, was being brought to account.

Then there were only a few days of calm before the next controversy struck: the unexpected departure of VW's compliance chief, Christine Hohmann-Dennhardt.

The firm had appointed Hohmann-Dennhardt to the management board only a year ago, and she was tasked with repairing the auto giant's image and reshaping its corporate culture in the wake of the emissions scandal.

The news of her abrupt exit, with a golden parachute of over 12 million euros ($12.7 million), provoked consternation and sparked a debate about executive pay.

And in this way the series of VW scandals continues unabated. No sooner had the controversy over Hohmann-Dennhardt's exit bonanza ebbed than an old man from Salzburg decided it was time to drop the next bombshell.

Mudslinging reloaded

Ferdinand Piëch, who formerly served as both VW CEO and head of its supervisory board, revealed to the German media what he had previously told the public prosecutor's office in the town of Braunschweig, where a court is hearing arguments over the emissions case. 

Piëch reportedly said that he was aware of the scam well before it broke and had incriminated former CEO Martin Winterkorn and some other ex-members of the company's supervisory board, stressing that they had "knowledge of the diesel fraud earlier than admitted."

With his assertions, Piëch began a new phase of mudslinging at the top of the group, a continuation of the power struggle from the spring of 2015. At the time, Piëch surprisingly distanced himself from his onetime protégé Winterkorn and just as surprisingly lost the ensuing leadership battle. 

The same people who then voted against Piëch have now been implicated by him. What a wonderful turn of events! Even the Israeli intelligence service is party to the whole affair.

So what does Ferdinand Piëch, who still has large stockpiles of VW shares, have in mind? Is he seeking revenge? Even if what he said were to be partly true, it would be a disaster beyond all expectations for VW. Piëch would also take a huge hit, but perhaps the 79-year-old doesn't care about it anymore.

The case in front of the court in Braunschweig mainly relates to allegations that investors were informed about the scandal a few days too late. If even in this instance, the claims for compensation already amount to around eight billion euros, then how much will it cost if it the company's top management is shown to have known about the emissions affair many months before it was made public?

Watch video 01:23

Former VW boss denies knowledge of rigging

What's next?

Of course, the supervisory board was quick and decisive in rejecting Piëch's accusations as false and baseless. There was even talk of "fake news."  But what's the need for Piëch, who is always calculated and never acts impulsively, to engage in such behavior? Or to tell lies? This is how the story of VW turns out to be a story of truth and lies. It's either Piëch who is lying or his former colleagues.

And it's unclear what else the old man still has to reveal in the coming days and months. The only thing one can safely say after this turbulent week in Wolfsburg:  Things will not settle down at Volkswagen in the foreseeable future, not for years.

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