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Michael Horn steps down from VW AG

His immediate replacement is Hinrich J. Woebcken.

Volkswagen has disclosed yesterday, that its top executive in the U.S. will be leaving the company. This news comes in the wake of the diesel emission cheating scandal that is haunting the company for the last six months.

Michael Horn has been the Chief Executive and president of Volkswagen Group America since 2014. He will be leaving the company my mutual agreement so as "to pursue other opportunities effective immediately," said Volkswagen.

Horn’s lawyer did not immediately return a call for comment while Horn, 54, could not be reached for comment.

Replacing Horn on an interim basis will be Hinrich J. Woebcken, a former BMW executive who has experience in global purchasing. In January this year, Woebcken had been named by Volkswagen as its North American head.

Horn’s departure from the company comes at a time when Volkswagen is in the process of negotiating with the State of California, the Justice Department and the Environmental Protection Agency on potential buybacks or fixes for the diesel vehicles that have emitted upto 40 times the legally allowable limit of pollution. Volkswagen has to respond by March 24 to a federal judge on whether it has found an acceptable solution to the problem.

As per a top official from California, if anyone can plug this problem, it is Volkswagen who may be forced to pay fine to mitigate the harm caused by the excess emissions.

The U.S. Justice Department has sued Volkswagen and is demanding upto $46 billion for violating environmental laws. It has sent the company a civil subpoena under a bank fraud law.

As per Alan Brown, general manager of Hendrick Volkswagen in Frisco, Texas who is also the president of the National Volkswagen Dealer Advisory Council, Horn’s tenure at Volkswagen was good and although Horn had been offered posting at Volkswagen other than in the U.S., he had declined them.

While noting that VW dealers in the U.S. have come out strongly in support of Volkswagen, Brown was of the opinion that Volkswagen must maintain its aggressive U.S. dealership policy and increase its volumes in that country.

"We are not working out of gas stations any more," said Brown said who said the 650 Volkswagen dealers have invested around $1 billion over the last decade.

Viewing Horn’s departure as "a serious blow to the U.S. dealer network, the employees of Volkswagen of America, the workers at the Volkswagen plant in Chattanooga, and the entire Volkswagen community," the Volkswagen dealer council stated the "change in management can only serve to put the company at more risk, not less."

Still facing a stop sale on all of its new diesel vehicles, Volkswagen’s U.S. sales are down by 14% this year after having fallen by 5% in the previous year.

When the scandal had initially broken out, Horn was VW’s public face in the U.S. and he had apologised for the scandal to the public and had testified before the U.S. Congress.

"Let’s be clear about this: our company was dishonest — with the EPA and the California Air Resources Board — and with all of you. And in my German words: We totally screwed up. We must fix those cars," said Horn on Sept. 21.

In the following month, Horn told a U.S. House of Representatives panel that VW’s top leadership and supervisory board didn’t intentionally order the cheating and that it was only the work of a few individuals.
Horn had told the U.S. Congress that he had no knowledge of the diesel emission cheating scheme.

Debashish Mukherjee

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