Investigators searched the headquarters of Volkswagen AG’s operations in France, a spokeswoman said Sunday, a day after the German carmaker’s former Chief Executive Officer Martin Winterkorn stepped down from his post running Porsche Automobil Holding SE, VW’s biggest shareholder.
Volkswagen “fully cooperated” with the probe on Friday at its offices in the northern French town of Villers-Cotterets, a spokeswoman, Leslie Peltier, said by telephone.
Winterkorn relinquished his position at Porsche under pressure to cut his ties amid an investigation into cheating on emissions tests. VW Chairman Hans Dieter Poetsch, who already sits on the Porsche board, will take over for Winterkorn on Nov. 1, the Stuttgart-based company said in a statement on Saturday. The holding company, controlled by the Porsche and Piech families, owns more than half of VW’s voting shares.
While the Porsche-Piech family was initially willing to stick it out with Winterkorn, who resigned as VW CEO in September, labor leaders and the German state of Lower Saxony were pushing for him to leave so that the German automaker could make a fresh start following the admission of cheating on U.S. emissions tests, people familiar with the matter said. The two groups have significant influence at the carmaker because Lower Saxony owns 20 percent of the voting stock and labor officials hold half the seats on VW’s supervisory board.
“It’s a good sign but it comes very late,” said Ferdinand Dudenhoeffer, director of the Center for Automotive Research at the University of Duisburg-Essen. “Anything else would have been unimaginable.”
Talks are underway for Winterkorn to leave his remaining posts as chairman of VW’s publicly traded Audi brand and the group’s truck holding company, said the people, who asked not to be identified because the discussions are private.
Fallout from the cheating disclosure has since spread to encompass as many as 11 million cars around the world. Cleaning up the mess will cost much more than the 6.5 billion euros ($7.4 billion) Volkswagen already set aside for the task, Winterkorn’s replacement as CEO, Matthias Mueller, has said.
VW on Friday announced that Christine Hohmann-Dennhardt, compliance chief at rival Daimler AG, will join the carmaker to take over a new VW management-board position focused on integrity and legal affairs. She’s the first outsider hired for a top post at the automaker since the beginning of the scandal.
Winterkorn took the position of Porsche SE CEO in 2009, shortly after the company’s planned takeover of Volkswagen failed because of ballooning debt. Working with then-Chairman Ferdinand Piech, he helped arrange a fix that gave Volkswagen the Porsche sports-car brand and solidified the families’ control over the carmaking group via the holding company.