BERLIN (AP) – The latest news on the scandal over Volkswagen’s evasion of U.S. emissions controls. All times local.
Volkswagen CEO Martin Winterkorn says he is stepping down “in the interests of the company” as it grapples with the emissions scandal.
Wintekorn said in a statement Wednesday that “Volkswagen needs a fresh start – also in terms of personnel. I am clearing the way for this fresh start with my resignation.”
He said he was acting in the interests of the company “even though I am not aware of any wrongdoing on my part.”
A successor was not immediately announced.
Germany’s vice chancellor has cautioned against casting doubt on the quality of Volkswagen as a whole or the rest of the country’s auto industry as he visited the company’s stand at the Frankfurt auto show.
Sigmar Gabriel, who is also Germany’s economy minister, said Wednesday it is clear that it’s “absolutely unacceptable” to try to manipulate engines using software during tests.
He added: “The damage that some people have unleashed for the company and its employees is huge – but I think we should take care not to make a general debate about the quality of Volkswagen or the whole German auto industry out of this.”
Gabriel welcomed Volkswagen’s pledges to investigate the scandal fully. He said it’s important that it is cleared up quickly and “the consequences are drawn.”
Prosecutors in Germany say they are considering whether to open an investigation into the Volkswagen emissions scandal.
The prosecutors’ office in Braunschweig, near VW’s Wolfsburg headquarters, says Wednesday that it is considering opening an investigation against employees of VW who might be responsible. It didn’t specify any names, and no one has yet been identified as being to blame for the manipulation of software in diesel vehicles.
Prosecutors say they are collecting information after receiving “several” criminal complaints. Anyone can file a criminal complaint in Germany, and prosecutors have to examine whether to act on them.
Lower Saxony state’s justice ministry says it couldn’t give any information on the number or contents of the complaints.
Economists are beginning to voice some worries over the impact on German growth from the Volkswagen crisis.
Carsten Brzeski, chief economist at ING Germany, said the ongoing refugee crisis and now the “Volkswagen shocker” pose new risks to the German economy.
Brzeski concedes that it is “unclear” what the impact of the VW crisis will be, but that there will likely be one given the size of VW. It is, he notes, “one of Germany’s most important global champions” and an “important growth driver for the German economy.”
And Jennifer McKeown of Capital Economics said the Volkswagen scandal is a new risk to German growth to go alongside the slowdown in China.
In the second quarter, Germany grew by a quarterly rate of 0.4 percent.
Germany’s transport minister says it remains to be seen what effect the suspect software built into some 11 million Volkswagen diesel vehicles actually had.
Minister Alexander Dobrindt has set up a commission to examine whether the cars were built and examined in compliance with German and European rules.
He said Wednesday that Volkswagen has indicated the software was inactive, and that the commission will have to “examine carefully what changes an inactive part could cause to an engine, the vehicle.”
He said that only then would it be possible to decide what happens with the cars affected.
Dobrindt wouldn’t say whether he expects heads to roll at Volkswagen. He said his job is to examine how consumers might have been affected and “it is not for us to decide on other questions.”
Volkswagen’s share price has rallied further but still remains around a third lower than it was at the start of the week.
In early afternoon trading in Frankfurt, the company’s share price was up 3.1 percent at 114.60 euros. That’s a marked turnaround from the start of the session when it slid a further 7 percent to trade below 100 euros for the first time in nearly four years.
Wednesday’s rise follows declines of 17 percent and 20 percent in the first two days of the week that saw nearly 25 billion euros (around $28 billion) wiped off the company’s market value.
David Madden, market analyst at IG, said the sector as a whole is one “to swerve until there is a conclusion to this saga.”
The head of Germany’s main industry lobby organization is calling for “transparency, openness and speed” in getting to the bottom of the Volkswagen emissions scandal.
Ulrich Grillo of the Federation of German Industries said in a statement Wednesday that “‘made in Germany’ stands for excellent products.”
German engineering and German craftsmanship are “rightly respected worldwide,” he added.
Grillo says his organization “strongly criticizes any manipulation.”
He said of the Volkswagen scandal that “any misconduct must be cleared up completely.”
Several law firms are filing class action lawsuits against Volkswagen over its admission that it used special software to get its cars to pass U.S. emissions tests.
Clifford Law Offices, based in Chicago, says it is filing a complaint to the Northern District of Illinois alleging that VW engaged in deceptive and fraudulent business practices.
Meanwhile, law firm Sutts, Strosberg LLP, based in Windsor, Canada, was reported in local media to have filed a class action lawsuit seeking $1 billion in damages and $100 million in punitive damages.
The European Automobile Manufacturers Association, which represents major European automakers including Volkswagen, says it “recognizes the gravity of the situation and is taking this very seriously.”
However, it said “there is no evidence that this is an industry-wide issue.”
VW has admitted to using software to get its cars to pass U.S. emissions tests. It is facing the prospect of multiple investigations and lawsuits.
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