In a terse statement in which he says that he is “shocked by the events of the past few days,” Volkswagen CEO Martin Winterkorn resigned Wednesday. There were reports earlier in the day that a committee of the company’s board was meeting in advance of a meeting of the full board that had been set for Friday. Winterkorn apparently saw the writing on the wall and took the opportunity to fall on his sword.
In his statement Winterkorn said, “I am doing this in the interest of the company even though I am not aware of any wrong doing on my part.”
One might argue that not being aware of wrong doing on this scale is itself reason enough for Volkswagen to look for new leadership. And Winterkorn said as much, “Volkswagen needs a fresh start -- also in terms of personnel. I am clearing the way for this fresh start with my resignation.”
Tuesday the company admitted that there are 11 million cars around the world that have the same software switch as the nearly 500,000 in the United States. The switch automatically enables the diesel engines in several models to detect when the vehicle is being tested and to enable settings that allow the car to pass strict emissions tests. When the car gets back on the road the software detects that as well and signals the engine to run in a different mode, which can release up to 40 times the amount of pollutant as the test mode.
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Volkswagen has not denied charges that it deliberately and knowingly sold cars with this capability, and Winterkorn’s resignation is likely to be just the first in long string of changes at the top.