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Volkswagen CEO Martin Winterkorn takes responsibility, resigns over emissions scandal

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Volkswagen Chief executive Martin Winterkorn resigned on Wednesday, taking responsibility for the German carmaker’s rigging of US emissions tests in the biggest scandal in its 78-year history.

“Volkswagen needs a fresh start — also in terms of personnel. I am clearing the way for this fresh start with my resignation,” Winterkorn said, following a marathon meeting with the executive committee of the VW board.

The world’s biggest carmaker has admitted to US regulators that it programmed computers in its cars to detect when they were being tested and alter the running of their diesel engines to conceal their true emissions.

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Volkswagen did not name a successor, but said proposals on management appointments would be made to a full board meeting on Friday. Tagesspiegel, citing sources close to the board, said earlier that Winterkorn would be replaced by Matthias Mueller, who heads the company’s Porsche sports car business.

Mueller, a former head product strategist, is also a management board member of Porsche SE, and so close to the Piech-Porsche family that controls Volkswagen.

Winterkorn, who during his eight years in charge oversaw a doubling in Volkswagen’s sales and an almost tripling in profit, said he was shocked that misconduct on such a massive scale had been possible at the company, adding that he was not aware of any wrongdoing on his own part.

The carmaker was under huge pressure to take decisive action, with its shares down more than 30 per cent in value since the crisis broke.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel had urged Volkswagen to move “as quickly as possible” to restore confidence in a company held up for generations as a paragon of German engineering prowess.

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CEO’s leadership questioned before

In April this year, CEO Martin Winterkorn saw off a challenge to his leadership when the board ousted long-time chairman Ferdinand Piech.

There was no sign emissions testing was part of Piech’s criticism of Winterkorn, but insiders say Piech was unhappy with Volkswagen’s underperformance in the United States, where sales of VW-brand cars fell 10 per cent last year to less than half of their 2018 target of 800,000 deliveries.

Volkswagen is strong in the small US diesel sector and has spent millions on television ads promoting its “clean” diesel cars. Winterkorn has long been accused by critics of an excessively centralised and hands-on management style, which they say has led to production delays and hindered the firm’s ability to adapt to local market needs.

Volkswagen was challenged by authorities back as 2014 over tests showing emissions exceeded California and US federal limits, but didn’t admit wrongdoing.

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