Former VW CEO Resigns as Audi Chairman in Wake of Scandal

  • Martin Winterkorn was forced out from VW top job in September
  • Audi posts 2% October sales gain, lagging behind competitors

Volkswagen AG’s former Chief Executive Officer Martin Winterkorn resigned from his post as supervisory board chairman of the manufacturer’s Audi premium-car division, further scaling back his ties with Europe’s largest automaker amid an investigation into cheating on diesel-emissions tests that took place under his watch.

Winterkorn has stepped down as chairman with immediate effect, a spokesman for Audi said by phone. He resigned as CEO of Volkswagen in September, and Porsche Automobil Holding SE, its biggest shareholder, said on Oct. 17 that he’ll depart as head of that company as well. Winterkorn’s reluctance to give up all posts related to the company immediately sparked criticism from analysts over poor corporate governance.

Volkswagen is reeling from revelations in September that a line of diesel engines was equipped with software designed to fool emissions testers, affecting about 11 million vehicles worldwide. Audi is among the group’s passenger-vehicle brands that, along with the VW commercial-van nameplate, is faced with the recalls. The upscale marque accounts for about 2.4 million affected cars. Wolfsburg, Germany-based Volkswagen owns almost all of Audi, with less than 1 percent of the unit’s stock publicly traded.

Additionally, VW admitted last week that 800,000 cars largely in Europe might have wrong emissions labels. It however rejected U.S. Environmental Protection Agency allegations that its cheating on diesel-emissions tests included a Porsche model and other high-end vehicles. VW pledged to cooperate with the EPA to clarify any questions regarding the 3.0-liter diesel engines. The additional investigation centers on the Porsche Cayenne and VW Touareg sport utility vehicles and as well as larger sedans and the Q5 SUV from Audi, according to the EPA.

VW’s new CEO, Matthias Mueller, has proceeded with a plan Winterkorn drafted to decentralize management, giving more responsibility to brands and regional heads. The efforts have been complicated by the widening cheating scandal as the financial fallout from fixing the cars as well as fines from regulators and lawsuits in the U.S. and Europe are difficult to predict.

Lower Ranking

Audi is poised to be overtaken this year as the world’s second-largest maker of luxury cars by Daimler AG’s Mercedes-Benz marque after holding the No. 2 ranking since 2011. Premium-market leader BMW AG is attempting to fend off their efforts to take the top spot by the end of the decade.

Audi’s global deliveries edged up 2 percent to 149,200 cars in October, the manufacturer said in a statement on Thursday. That lagged behind a 6.3 percent gain to more than 164,900 vehicles at BMW’s namesake brand and a 10 percent surge to almost 155,200 cars at Mercedes. In the first 10 months of the year, Audi’s sales were up 3.6 percent at 1.5 million vehicles, compared with a 5.8 percent increase at BMW to 1.56 million cars and a 15 percent jump at Mercedes to 1.53 million.

“Despite the imminent model changeover with our best-seller, the A4, Audi sales continued to develop positively,” Dietmar Voggenreiter, the new sales chief at the Ingolstadt, Germany-based brand, said in the statement. Audi, which is introducing the revamped A4 sedan and station wagon in Europe this week in advance of rollouts elsewhere next year, anticipates sales will pick up as "pre‑orders for the model have already reached a very high level."

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