WOLFSBURG -- Volkswagen Group Chairman Hans Dieter Poetsch pledged that the company will be "relentless" in seeking to establish which people were responsible for the automaker's emissions rigging scandal even as he admitted that there was an attitude in some parts of the company that "tolerated breaches of rules."
VW acknowledged for the first time on Thursday that the seeds of the crisis were sown a decade ago because its diesel cars could not pass strict emissions standards in the U.S., where the company has been an also-ran.
Poetsch said the cheating happened because engineers who were developing the EA 189 engine family involved in the scandal could not find a way to meet U.S. diesel emissions limits in a permissible way within their time frame and budget.
The cheat was not a one-off mistake but a "chain of mistakes," Poetsch told a news conference at the automaker's headquarters here, organized as part of the company's updated report on the scandal.
The emissions-rigging led to "defeat" software being fitted in up to 11 million VW, Audi, Skoda and Seat diesel cars sold worldwide.
Poetsch said investigations found that the emissions cheating happened because of three factors. One was an attitude in some parts of the company that "tolerated breaches of rules." Said Poetsch: "This factor was most difficult for us to accept."
Another was individual failures in one area of the company, he said. A third was flaws in some processes that are now being tightened.
Poetsch said nine executives have been suspended as a result of the scandal, one more than previously admitted. He declined to speculate on whether additional managers would be suspended.
'Small group' to blame
Poetsch repeated VW's earlier assertion that only a relatively small group of people were involved in the diesel software cheat. He said there was no indication that supervisory or management board members were involved. "Based on what we know today, it was a very limited group which acted irresponsibly," he said.
Poetsch said the external investigation by U.S. law firm Jones Day was making good progress but would need time to reach conclusions because of the amount of data they need to screen and because the the results will need to hold up in court. The results will be reported during VW's annual meeting on April 21 next year.
A parallel internal investigation carried out by the automaker's "best experts" will be concluded soon, he said.
Deficiencies were found in reporting and monitoring systems as a result of the investigations. "The main problem was that responsibilities were not sufficiently clear," Poetsch told reporters. "We will be relentless in seeking to establish who was responsible," he said. "Everything is on the table. Nothing will be swept under the carpet."
About 450 external and internal experts are involved in the investigations. At present, 102 terabytes of information have been secured, which is the equivalent of the information contained in 50 million books, VW said. More than 1,500 electronic data storage units have been collected from approximately 380 employees.
VW's engine-development unit remained the focus of investigations, Poetsch said.
The company said it will improve oversight of engine-software development to avoid future manipulations. "Software for engine control devices will be developed more strictly in accordance with the four-eyes principle," VW said in its updated report.
The carmaker said it will have future emissions tests independently evaluated.
New structure by 2017
VW Group CEO Matthias Mueller said the crisis was an opportunity for VW to introduce long-needed structural change. Since the start of this year, the VW group's executive board has brought in six new members, and top management had been changed at seven of VW's 12 brands.
He said VW was working on a new structure to give more power to its regional divisions and brands. Details would be drawn up in the first quarter of next year and it would be in place across the group by early 2017.
The company was not considering the sale of any units to simplify the group structure or raise money, and was happy with having 12 brands. "There is no reason whatsoever to get rid of these assets," said Mueller, who oversees brands from Ducati motorcycles to Scania heavy trucks and Bugatti supercars.
"We will not allow the crisis to paralyze us. Although the current situation is serious, this company will not be broken by it," he said.
"There is no doubt that on the one hand there were weaknesses in our procedures ... and on the other hand we had an attitude of employees in middle management that was, as we say today, 'non-compliant'," Mueller told Germany's ARD TV. He said tips from about 100 whistle-blowers didn't open any new fronts in the scandal.
Mueller, who took over as VW Group boss in October, said the company hopes to reach a deal with U.S. environmental authorities in the next few days or weeks so the company can start to recall affected cars there. He said cooperation with those authorities is now "excellent" after earlier misunderstandings on both sides.
Mueller said he would start a visit to the U.S. after the Detroit auto show in January. He said he would apologize for the situation, but added: "I don't think I will be going down on my knees there ... I will look ahead optimistically and confidently."