VW US chief steps down amid emission scandal

VW US chief steps down amid emission scandal

NEW YORK - Agence France-Presse
VW US chief steps down amid emission scandal

Michael Horn, President and CEO of Volkswagen Group of America, speaks during the 2016 Volkswagen Passat reveal in the Brooklyn borough of New York in a September 21, 2015 file photo. REUTERS Photo

Volkswagen’s straight-talking U.S. chief Michael Horn has quit the automaker as it struggles with the fallout of a massive pollution cheating scandal, a decision that caught the industry by surprise.

The departure of Horn, the 54-year-old car executive who made headlines worldwide in September 2015 with his frank admission that VW had “totally screwed up”, is effective immediately, Volkswagen said in a statement on March 9.

He left by mutual consent “to pursue other opportunities,” the company said without further explanation.

“During his time in the U.S., Michael Horn built up a strong relationship with our national dealer body and showed exemplary leadership during difficult times for the brand,” said Herbert Diess, chief executive of the Volkswagen passenger cars brand.     

Horn, the highest ranking US executive to quit the firm since the emissions scandal broke, became the public face of the German carmaker during the crisis.

He is to be replaced on an interim basis by Hinrich Woebcken, the North American regional chief and chairman of Volkswagen Group of America, Volkswagen said.

“People know this scandal was rooted in Germany, which is why this is so surprising,” Rebecca Lindland, senior analyst for auto researcher Kelley Blue Book, told Bloomberg News.

“In terms of scapegoats, there are other goats out there who would have been better.”
VW, which until recently had ambitions to become the world’s biggest carmaker, is battling to resolve its deepest-ever crisis sparked by revelations that it installed emissions-cheating software into 11 million diesel engines worldwide.

This week, German prosecutors said they had broadened their investigation into the cheating from six to 17 suspects at Volkswagen. No board member is among the suspects, however.  
French prosecutors said they, too, have opened an investigation into “serious fraud” at the automobile manufacturer.