Volkswagen CEO Martin Winterkorn has stepped down amidst a scandal involving emissions-cheating software in the company's diesel cars, but denied any direct knowledge of the scheme.
Nextcar Bug art"I am shocked by the events of the past few days. Above all, I am stunned that misconduct on such a scale was possible in the Volkswagen Group," he said in a statement.
Winterkorn's resignation is effective immediately; Volkswagen will appoint a replacement on Friday. "I am doing this in the interests of the company even though I am not aware of any wrongdoing on my part," Winterkorn said.
"Volkswagen needs a fresh start—also in terms of personnel," Winterkorn concluded. "I am clearing the way for this fresh start with my resignation."
Winterkorn's resignation comes in the wake of a broad scandal at Volkswagen over charges that the company intentionally deceived U.S. regulators by creating "defeat devices" inside sophisticated vehicle software. The scam software produced environmentally friendly results when tested. But take the car out on the road, and it pumped out 40 times the allowed amount of nitrogen oxide, a pollutant that causes asthma, bronchitis, emphysema, and generally adds to that gray haze surrounding most American cities at rush hour.
The company says that approximately 11 million diesel cars, built between 2008 and 2015, may have the software in them, and has moved to recall all affected cars. Just under 500,000 are thought to be in the U.S.
Volkswagen is investigating the matter internally, but U.S. investigators are looking into it, too. While Winterkorn said he was unaware of any misdeeds, it's possible he could come under scrutiny for failing to properly oversee his operation.
Meanwhile, Volkswagen shares have been in free fall. This week, alone, the company's market capitalization—a measure of the total value of a public company—fell $29 billion. Volkswagen is now trying to repair its image across the world, and finding a new leader to clean things up may be the first step in that process.
"The process of clarification and transparency must continue," Winterkorn said. "This is the only way to win back trust. I am convinced that the Volkswagen Group and its team will overcome this grave crisis."