Piëch Throws Bombs, Volkswagen Spins Out Of Control – Forbes
“The hallway radio is speechless,” sighed a highly-placed Volkswagen manager when I asked him today what the hallway radio, a.k.a “Flurfunk,” as the the scuttlebutt among Volkswagen’s executives is called in Wolfsburg, thinks about a nuclear bomb dropped by VW’s patriarch supreme Ferdinand Piëch. The spokesman for majority shareholder Porsche just dragged labor unions, German politicians, and his own cousin Wolfgang Porsche into the brutal grind of the dieselgate scandal. Today, the political impact reached Israel’s spy service Shi Bet. Meanwhile, Volkswagen’s unions are in open revolt against Volkswagen brand chief Herbert Diess. Volkswagen is quickly spinning out of control. Gabor Steingart, publisher of Germany’s #1 financial daily Handelsblatt already tweeted exasperatedly that “VW produces headlines with the same takt time as cars.”
Throughout the dieselgate scandal, there has been the popular guessing game of who knew when and when did they know it. Last week, we read of Piëch telling German prosecutors that he discussed Volkswagen’s dieselgate problem with Winterkorn as early as March 2015. Per the reports, Piëch testified that he heard from an informant that VW was having a big problem in America, and that US regulators already notified Volkswagen. Supposedly, Winterkorn answered that this was untrue, and that such a notification did not exist.
When this became public over the weekend, my Wolfsburg contact suggested to check “What did the Works Council know? What is the role of [Lower Saxony’s liberal] SPD government? What did they know?” It was a hot tip. Only a few days later, we now learn that unions and politicians may have known everything, known straight from Ferdinand Piëch himself.
Spiegel Magazin wrote yesterday that in his testimony to German prosecutors, Volkswagen’s former chairman Ferdinand Piëch claimed he informed the steering committee of Volkswagen’s Supervisory Board immediately after Winterkorn professed his ignorance. The top-flight committee consisted of Stephan Weil, Prime Minister of Volkswagen’s 20% shareholder Lower Saxony, along with Volkswagen’s Works Council chief Bernd Osterloh, former Metal Worker Union boss Berthold Huber, and Piëch’s cousin Wolfgang Porsche. This was six long months before the dieselgate scandal became public. Shareholders are arguing in German court about how many weeks Volkswagen may have sat on the dieselgate news. Volkswagen patriarch Piëch, who turns 80 in April, says the Supervisory Board knew half a year before the scandal erupted.
Yesterday evening, Volkswagen issued a strongly worded statement, saying that “Volkswagen AG emphatically repudiates the assertions made by Ferdinand Piëch,” and that all the aforementioned gentlemen “have unequivocally and emphatically rejected all assertions made by Ferdinand Piëch as untrue.” Volkswagen ominously threatened legal action, saying that it will “carefully weigh the possibility of measures and claims” against its former boss and savior from bankruptcy. Interestingly, a Volkswagen that never referred to the patriarch as anything less than ‘Herr Prof. Dr. Ferdinand Piëch” suddenly drops all decorum, and academic titles, and calls him a lowly “Herr Piëch.”