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Winterkorn must step down

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Thomas Neufeld
September 21, 2015

VW has manipulated US emission control tests. Company chief Martin Winterkorn is in the center of criticism. Will he have enough time to shed light on the current scandal? DW's Thomas Neufeld says "no."

VW's Martin Winterkorn
Image: picture-alliance/dpa/J. Lübke

In spring of this year patriarch Ferdinand Piech attempted to dethrone VW CEO Martin Winterkorn. The latter said he wouldn't let anyone chase him away. Sixty-eight-year-old Winterkorn put up a fight and took the upper hand.

Piech resigned from his directorship and Winterkorn seemed stronger than ever before. But things look differently today. No matter how much he knew or didn't know about the revealed manipulations in the US, he's the one bearing responsibility for what happened.

The scandal has been picking up momentum. Policymakers from all mainstream parties want a proper investigation and demand personal consequences, even a special debate in the national parliament. Which is to show what importance Volkswagen has for the reputation of the auto industry as a whole.

On Wednesday, the mighty presidium of VW's supervisory board is scheduled to meet. Winterkorn will be grilled to give the board members more information and put all the facts on the table without beating about the bush.

The CEO will most likely deeply regret the manipulations at hand, but add that he hadn't known anything about them, although he'd made the improvement of the company's US business one of his prime tasks.

But he failed in doing exactly that. The big game as the most powerful chief executive of a German carmaker is over for the soccer fan.

That's a tragic development for an engineer who'd helped shoot a mediocre firm from Lower Saxony to the top globally. No other auto maker employs so many people, produces so many cars or has higher revenues.

DW's Thomas Neufeld
DW's Thomas Neufeld

But now the 200-billion-euro ($224-billion) giant needs a corporate reshuffle so as to ensure VW can remain the world's largest and a profitable carmaker.

Executives and the supervisory board will have to make a quick decision as the reputation of the whole auto industry in Germany is at stake. And so are hundreds of thousands of jobs worldwide.

Major shareholder Ferdinand Piech will be watching the scene with a smile on his face from remote Salzburg in Austria. After all, it's him who wanted to oust Winterkorn in April of this year. He wanted to get rid of him because he thought Winterkorn hadn't been able to get on top of the company's problems on the US market. It looks as if Piech was right.

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