Winfried Vahland: New VW Chief Resigns After Three Weeks

Winfried Vahland, who was recently appointed to head Volkswagen’s North American division, has resigned. In recent weeks, the German automaker has faced stark criticism for installing software to bypass diesel air-quality tests. However, company officials claim Vahland’s resignation is unrelated to the VW emissions scandal.

On September 18, Volkswagen AG was served with a Notice of Violation, which was issued by the United States Environmental Protection Agency.

As discussed by Consumer Reports, the automaker is accused of installing illegal software on more than 480,000 vehicles manufactured between 2009 and 2015. The software was essentially designed to “trick” emissions tests, which determine whether vehicles are compliant with the Clean Air Act.

Motor vehicle emissions standards, which are defined in Title II of the Clean Air Act, were developed to lessen the impact of pollutants on the environment.

As stated in the Notice of Action, the EPA is specifically concerned about nitrogen oxides, which are dangerous for the environment and public health.

“Nitrogen oxides are a family of highly reactive gasses that play a major role in the atmospheric reactions… that produce ozone… Breathing ozone can trigger a variety of health problems including chest pain, coughing, throat irritation, and congestion.”

To prevent unnecessary exposure, the EPA placed restrictions on the amount of NOx motor vehicles are allowed to emit.

Fuel economy and emissions are tested with a machine called a dynamometer, which uses a type of treadmill to simulate driving conditions.

Most vehicles, including those involved in the VW emissions scandal, are outfitted with a switch that deactivates traction and stability control features during fuel economy and emissions testing.

In addition to deactivating traction and stability control, Volkswagen is accused of installing software to also deactivate “the operation of… the emission control system.”

Although the software went undetected for five years, studies conducted by West Virginia University’s Center for Alternative Fuels, Engines, & Emissions raised some serious concerns.

It appeared that certain Volkswagens, with turbocharged direct injection diesel engines, emitted more pollutants while driving on the road than they emitted during emissions testing.

As a result of the WVU findings, the California Air Resources Board and the EPA conducted their own tests on the vehicles in question. After exhausting all other possibilities, the agencies concluded Volkswagen intentionally installed software to skew the emissions test results in their favor.

Although the automaker was facing a devastating scandal, VW admitted designing and installing “a defeat device in these vehicles in the form of a sophisticated software algorithm that detected when a vehicle was undergoing emissions testing.”

As a result of the EPA findings, the automaker is currently under investigation by the United States Justice Department and officials in Lower Saxony, Germany.

Amid the VW emissions scandal, numerous executives, including VW Group CEO Martin Winterkown, resigned. He was eventually replaced with Winfried Vahland, who is the former CEO of Volkswagen Group subsidiary Skoda Auto.

As reported by the New York Times, Vahland was expected to help the automaker “combine and significantly strengthen” their resources throughout the process of reorganization. However, he resigned three weeks after accepting the position.

In an official statement, Volkswagen said Vahland’s resignation was sparked by “differing views on the organization” of the North American division. The automaker vehemently denies reports that the resignation was “related to current events on the issue of diesel engines.”

At the time of his resignation, Vahland had worked for the automaker for 25 years.

In addition to announcing the unexpected resignation, Volkswagen announced the dismissal of “several dozen” managers. It is unclear whether the dismissals were related to Winfried Vahland’s decision to resign. However, they were likely related to the company’s ongoing reorganization plan.

[Image via Harold Cunningham/Getty Images]