Audi Engineer Had Smoking Dieselgate Gun In His Safe, Pulls It In Court – Forbes
A document, locked up in the safe of an Audi engineer for years, could be explosive enough to blow away Audi CEO Rupert Stadler. It could destroy Audi’s fortunes in China, and with that a major source of Volkswagen’s cash. In a German court, the document was pulled out of the safe yesterday, to prove that Stadler ordered Audi engineers to cheat regulators in Hong Kong at a time when regulators in America were tracking down the dieselgate cheat of the century.
The dangerous document was presented in a German labor court by Audi engineer Ulrich Weiß, one of the company’s leading diesel developers. Weiß was suspended in November 2015. He continued drawing a 450,000 Euro ($473,000) annual salary until exactly last week, when he was fired, along with three other Audi engineers. Weiß was handed the German version of a pink slip in court by Audi’s lawyers. Apparently, the firings were triggered by incendiary testimony made in the same court last week, where Weiß’s attorney told the story of how dieselgate’s defeat devices were invented at Audi.
Yesterday, Audi found itself under new high-caliber fire. Weiß produced a document signed by Audi’s head of powertrain development Dr. Thomas Heiduk. It seemed to document that Audi board members Rupert Stadler (CEO), Ulrich Hackenberg (R&D), Werner Zimmermann (Quality Assurance), and Michael Neumayer (Product Management) “ordered a cheat,” wrote BILD-reporter Michael Manske, who covered the proceedings.
The order from above ended a heated debate. When Audi’s big Q7 was to be newly homologized in Hong Kong, “it did not comply with the strict emission rules” of the city state, wrote BILD. An internal Audi presentation, introduced in court, showed that the Q7 far exceeded the allowed 60g of NOx per kilometer. In the July 2015 discussion, Weiß was asked to cheat, the testimony said. Weiß refused. After more discussion, the engineer demanded an order in writing. According to the testimony, his boss Heiduk went in conference with the board, and came back with a written order to break the law.
Weiß’s attorney Hans-Georg Kauffeld said in court that his client locked-up the paper in his safe as insurance, and that he told his people to resist the order. Whether Hong Kong regulators were later fooled or not, nobody could say in court for sure.
Audi accused Weiß in court of destroying evidence, and of not properly informing the board. Weiß denied the allegations. The proceedings will drag on until March 10, when the court wants to render a decision.
If the matter can’t be contained in the Mannheim court, it could do more harm than just shorten the career of Stadler, who has been under fire for many months now. Audi is the leading premium brand in China, and it has been Volkswagen’s biggest money maker. In January, Audi’s sales in China slumped 35% year-on-year amid a heated dispute with Audi’s dealers. Last week, Audi’s China dealers demanded $4 billion to cover losses. I asked a leading Volkswagen executive with deep knowledge of the Chinse market how a scandal in Hong Kong would affect matters in China. “Theoretically, Hong Kong and China are separate,” the executive said. “But only theoretically.”
There is another strange twist to the story: The matter is largely contained in Germany. Despite the intrigue, collusion, and court-room drama of a best-selling mystery novel, there is little echo in the German press. “The court room was packed with reporters,” told me Manske, “but so far, I pretty much have an exclusive in BILD. Did they not get the explosiveness?”