Volkswagen’s ‘cutthroat’ corporate culture fueled emissions cheating in Dieselgate scandal, employees say

by Charles Miller

At a recent press conference, Volkswagen officials blamed U.S. pollution standards for the company’s diesel emissions cheating, stating that engineers couldn’t figure out a way to bring VW and Audi diesel models into compliance with federal law. Volkswagen Group Chairman Hans-Dieter Poetsch said that the engineers’ failure to find a way to meet U.S. emissions standards led them to install a “defeat device” on its TDI diesel models in order to fool testing software into thinking the cars emitted far lower levels of pollutants than they actually did.

Poetsch said that the decision to cheat EPA pollution standards rather than finding a legitimate way to bring the VW and Audi diesel models into compliance was not “a one-off mistake, but a whole chain of mistakes.” He said that Volkswagen engineers should have continued working on lowering emissions levels of the company’s “clean diesel” models until they found a solution, rather than cheating through the use of the emissions “defeat device.”

So far, Volkswagen has suspended nine managers who Poetsch says may have been involved in the emissions cheating scandal. An internal investigation conducted by Volkswagen into the Dieselgate scandal has uncovered 450 people externally and internally who were involved in the emissions cheating, Poetsch says. However, he denied that Volkswagen executives played any role in the decisions that led to problems with the company’s TDI models.

VW Employees Say Corporate Culture Played a Role in Dieselgate Scandal

Other figures who have commented on the Dieselgate scandal have painted a far different picture of VW executives’ role in the emissions cheating. Current and former Volkswagen employees who have spoken about the scandal have described a ruthless, cutthroat culture inside the company’s boardroom that encouraged employees to achieve the company’s business goals—no matter the cost.

According to critics, Volkswagen corporate culture under former CEOs Ferdinand Piëch and Martin Winterkorn created a working environment in which subordinates were fearful of contradicting their bosses and were afraid to admit failure. Former VW employees say that Mr. Winterkorn, in particular, was known for publicly dressing down his subordinates. According to a former management trainee at the company, “VW had this special culture. It was like North Korea without labor camps. You have to obey.”

Engineers at Volkswagen say that these attitudes created a mindset at the company in which engineers strove to fulfill the company’s business goals—even at the expense of playing by the rules. In the competition for executive approval and promotions, one former engineer said that co-workers lost the ability to say, “I won’t do this. I cannot. I am sorry.”

Volkswagen cheated to meet EPA emissions standards

Volkswagen’s corporate culture—which pushed engineers to succeed at any cost—helped fuel the actions that led to the emissions cheating scandal when the company was unable to meet new EPA emissions standards in 2004. Volkswagen executives had set ambitious goals for a massive expansion of the company’s diesel-powered model line that would help boost sales in the U.S. and transform the company into the world’s largest automaker.

However, when VW engineers found that they were unable to make the company’s EA189 diesel engine meet the EPA’s new regulations for nitrogen oxide emissions, the decision was made to cheat the emissions standards through the computer defeat device, rather than bring the vehicles into compliance through legitimate means. Poetsch said that VW’s engineers “could not find a way [to make the TDI models meet EPA emissions standards within] the time frame and the budget they had been given,” due in part to the aggressive goals set for them by VW executives.

“Later down the line, when the effective technical solutions to reduce NOx became available, these solutions were not in fact used as they should have been done, apparently in the mistaken interest of customers,” Poetsch said. “As a result, NOx levels on the test bench were particularly low but they were significantly higher on the road.”

Initially, the “TDI Clean Diesel” models were a success for Volkswagen. The 2009 Volkswagen Jetta sedan and Sportwagen were named “Green Car of the Year” by the Automotive Press and helped fuel record sales for the company.

However, experts say that Volkswagen could now be facing billions in government fines and legal damages over the Dieselgate scandal. Profits on the sale of new Volkswagen models have fallen from last year as falling consumer confidence in the VW brand has led consumers to shy away from purchasing new VW and Audi models. Volkswagen is also facing numerous lawsuits filed by current VW and Audi owners who have seen the value of their cars fall significantly in the wake of the Dieselgate scandal.

VW and Audi Owners May Qualify to File a Lawsuit

Owners of one of the Volkswagen, Audi, and Porsche “TDI Clean Diesel” models that were implicated in the Dieselgate scandal may be eligible to file a lawsuit and receive compensation for the lost value of their vehicles. As Volkswagens admissions in the emissions cheating scandal have made clear, the company knew for years that it was selling vehicles that failed to meet U.S. emissions standards and fraudulently lied its customers by touting the eco-friendly technology of these vehicles.

For more information about the lawsuits against Volkswagen and to receive a free legal consultation from an attorney, contact the lawyers at Heygood, Orr & Pearson by calling toll-free at 1-877-446-9001. You can also reach us by following the link to our free case evaluation form and answering a few simple questions about your situation to get started.


Case results depend upon a variety of factors unique to each case. Results of other cases do not guarantee or predict a similar result in any future case.

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by Charles Miller

Charles Miller is a licensed attorney and a partner at Heygood, Orr & Pearson. Charles focuses his practice on areas of complex commercial litigation and personal injury litigation.