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Kenneth Brennan
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Emissions Scandal Investigation Focuses on Two VW Engineers – Apologies Come Slow and Measured

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Two of the “best and brightest” Volkswagen engineers who discovered that VW wouldn’t be able to deliver a clean diesel engine that would meet U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) standards are in the middle of a company probe into the installation of software designed to cheat the system, according to a Wall Street Journal report.

The two engineers, Ulrich Hackenberg, Audi ’s chief engineer, and Wolfgang Hatz, developer of racing engines used in Porsche’s Formula One, were among the engineers suspended in the investigation of the emissions cheating scandal that caused the company’s market value to drop by 43 percent since Sept. 18, when the EPA gave notice that VW had rigged about 482,000 diesel cars in the U.S. to pass emissions tests. The news triggered a global recall to refit the engines to meet clean-air standards.

Diesel Popular in Germany, U.S. Lagged Behind

While extremely popular in Germany, diesel-engine vehicles made up only five percent of the U.S. car market in 2007, when Martin Winterkorn left Audi to take over as chief executive officer at Volkswagen. In 2008, Winterkorn gave U.S. executives a goal of more than tripling annual sales to at least 800,000 vehicles over the next 10 years. Hackenbert and Hatz were put in charge of research and development at Volkswagen shortly after Winterkorn became chief executive officer of the company in 2007, but has since resigned because of the scandal, although he remains at four other key positions within the company.

The company has admitted that VW managers struggled to meet U.S. sales targets and rigged the emissions of new car engines to sell more vehicles in the American market to meet the goals set by Winterkorn. The emissions-cheating software is believed to have been installed on the EA 189 engine sometime before it went into production in 2008, according to the WSJ report.

Apologies Trickle in Slowly and Remain Measured 

On September 29th, Michael Horn, President and CEO of VW Group of America sent an apology letter to all Volkswagen TDI diesel owners noting he was personally and profoundly apologetic. He noted that Volkswagen violated the public trust and that VW will take full responsibility. He stopped short of noting how VW will bring vehicles into emissions compliance but asked for public patience while they figure out how they will do so.

The American apology was followed shortly by a similar apology by the head of Volkswagen – Ireland who apologized to Irish motorists affected by the company’s emissions scandal. Like his American co-part, the head of Ireland did not commit to compensating owners for any loss.