• Knirsch takes R&D role from Hackenberg, who has been on leave
  • Audi to rework 3-liter engine software amid wider EPA probe

Audi AG named Stefan Knirsch to run the luxury-car maker’s research and development, replacing 30-year company veteran Ulrich Hackenberg as parent Volkswagen AG seeks a way out of a scandal over manipulation of vehicle emissions.

With Knirsch’s appointment, “we will make a strong new start in this challenging situation,” Audi Chief Executive Officer Rupert Stadler said in a statement late Thursday. Knirsch, 49, returned to Audi in May 2013 as head of powertrain operations after stints at sports-car maker Porsche and Rheinmetall AG’s automotive-parts unit.

Stefan Knirsch
Stefan Knirsch
Source: Audi

The scandal that has escalated since Wolfsburg, Germany-based Volkswagen admitted in September to cheating on diesel pollution tests spilled over in November to Audi, the company’s biggest earnings contributor. A 3-liter diesel engine developed by the brand included software under investigation by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Audi has said it will change the software and refile it for regulatory approval.

The admission brought the emissions-manipulation issue closer to home for Stadler. While Audi models were involved in the original cheating admission involving smaller diesel engines, the latest EPA investigation puts the division more in the firing line because it was responsible for development of the 3-liter technology, which is also used in VW and Porsche models.

Hackenberg, who had previously overseen development at the VW brand, had been on leave since the scandal broke. He was a close confidant of former Volkswagen CEO Martin Winterkorn, who stepped down in September.

Audi’s supervisory board appointed Winterkorn’s successor, Matthias Mueller, as the new chairman of the Ingolstadt, Germany-based division on Thursday. It also picked Julia Kuhn Piech and Josef Ahorner, from the families that control Volkswagen, as new board members to replace former VW Chairman Ferdinand Piech and his wife Ursula, who resigned earlier this year.

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