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Pötsch new VW Chairman

October 7, 2015

Volkswagen has named erstwhile finance chief Hans-Dieter Pötsch as the new chairman. He's pledged to do all he can to clear the air surrounding the emissions scandal. But could he have been involved too?

Hans Dieter Pötsch VW
Image: picture-alliance/dpa/Kay Nietfeld

Volkswagen's new chairman, Hans-Dieter Pötsch, said on Wednesday “it would take time” to clear up the emissions scandal, but that he would make it his key priority.

"Nobody is served by speculation or vague, preliminary progress reports," Pötsch told a news conference after his appointment was announced on Wednesday. "Therefore it will take some time until we have factual and reliable results and can provide you with comprehensive information."

Crisis mode

The confirmation of the erstwhile finance chief's new role came during crisis talks between Volkswagen's 20-person advisory board in the firm's headquarters in the northern German city of Wolfsburg.

The iconic carmaker is facing the biggest catastrophe in its corporate history, after revelations it had engaged in massive cheating of its diesel emissions tests in the US and elsewhere. Criminal liability, fines and repairing the affected vehicles is set to cost the company billions. Already a third of the firm's value has been wiped off the stock markets since the news broke last month.

Volkswagen parking lot
Volkswagen's troubles are mountingImage: picture-alliance/dpa/I. Wagner

“It's of personal importance to me to do everything to shed light on the affair completely,” Pötsch said. “I'm aware of the responsibility. I want to, and I will make a contribution.”

How much did Poetsch know?

His appointment as chairman is not without controversy. Critics say that Pötsch, who has been in charge of Volkswagen's finances since 2003, may have been too close to management - and therefore too close to the circumstances that gave way to the emissions scandal.

Many are also uneasy at the lack of investigation into Pötsch's possible involvement thus far.

Still, he has the support of Volkswagen's major shareholders, including the Piech and Porsche families. They have a majority of voting share through a holding company.

"Mr. Pötsch has distinguished himself through his strategic insight, knowledge of the automobile industry, and his expertise in financial matters," board member Wolfgang Porsche said at the news conference.

He will be replacing acting chairman and a former head of the IG Metall engineering union, Berthold Huber. Huber stepped in at the end of April after Ferdinand Piech resigned after losing a power struggle to former Volkswagen CEO Martin Winterkorn.

Winterkorn has since also stepped down in the wake of the scandal.

Transport Ministry examining VW's recall plan

Meanwhile, the Federal Ministry of Transport and Digital Infrastructure said it was looking at Volkswagen's comprehensive plan as to how to fix the diesel engines affected by the emissions rigging.

VW a work in progress
VW's master plan is under reviewImage: picture-alliance/dpa/J. Stratenschulte

"For the 2.0-litre engines, VW is saying that a software solution will be ready this year and will then be implemented from the start of next year," transport minister Alexander Dobrindt told reporters."With the 1.6 litre engines, in addition to new software, engine changes will be necessary, which according to Volkswagen won't be ready before September 2016."

Dobrindt said German watchdog KBA, or the Federal Motor Transport Authority, would decide soon whether it had additional questions for Volkswagen.

Troubles mounting in the U.S.

In the United States, where the manipulations were first discovered, top senators on the Senate Finance Committee said in a letter sent to Volkswagen that they were looking into the carmaker and possible resulting fraud related to tax credits for consumers buying environmentally friendly vehicles. Volkswagen has until Oct. 30 to submit information on the eligibility of its cars for the "lean-burn technology motor vehicle" tax credit.

The letter was made public a day before Volkswagen Group of America chief Michael Horn and federal environmental officials were set to testify on the emissions cheating affair before the House of Representatives Energy and Commerce Committee.

In a written testimony released on Wednesday, Horn pledged full cooperation with the congressional investigation. He said that Volkswagen's top priority is coming up with a remedy for consumers, and that the three groups of vehicles fitted with the defeat devices would each require different solutions.

Earlier, Volkswagen Chief Executive Matthias Müller told the "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung""that the company believes "only" 9.5 million vehicles were affected and would be fixed by the end of 2016."

jd/hg (dpa, Reuters, AP)