VW set to name new chief executive today

Volkswagen announced on Tuesday it was considering reshuffling its board

Matthias Mueller
Matthias Mueller
Image: Supplied

Volkswagen was set to replace chief executive Matthias Mueller yesterday, as it seeks to turn the page on the “dieselgate” emissions scandal that has dogged the company since 2015.

The supervisory board of the world’s leading car maker would meet a day ahead of schedule and announce its decision, a source close to the company said.

Volkswagen announced on Tuesday it was considering reshuffling its board and replacing Mueller, in a move that sent stocks in the company surging.

Mueller had signalled he was open to play a part in the changes in conversations with supervisory board chief Hans Dieter Poetsch, the firm said.

German business newspaper Handelsblatt and national news agency DPA reported that Herbert Diess, head of the VW brand – one of the group’s 12 makes of cars, trucks and motorbikes – was slated to take Mueller’s place.

Mueller, a former chief executive of VW subsidiary Porsche AG, was brought in to replace Martin Winterkorn in 2015 and was contracted to serve until 2020.

Longtime chief executive Winterkorn quit days after the firm admitted to installing software in 11 million diesel vehicles worldwide designed to cheat regulatory emissions tests in a scandal that became known as “dieselgate”.

Mueller, 64, has steered the mammoth car maker into a massive restructuring, aiming to offer electric versions of many of its models and slim down its operations over the coming decade.

On his watch, the VW group last year held on to its title as the world’s largest car maker and made a net profit of €11.4- billion (R169-billion).

But he has himself landed in prosecutors’ sights over suspicions he may have known about the diesel cheating before it became public and failed in his duty to inform investors.

“The most important part of getting the crisis under control is over now, so it’s right for VW to look in a new direction,” analyst Juergen Pieper of Metzler bank said.

Diess, known as a very good cost manager, would be the best solution as a successor for the next five years, he said.

Shares in Volkswagen climbed 1.7% to €176.06 (R2 603) in late morning trade in Frankfurt, vastly outperforming the Dax index of leading shares that was up just 0.1%. Dieselgate has so far cost VW more than €25-billion (R370-billion) in buy-backs, fines and compensation, and it remains mired in legal woes at home and abroad.

Suspicions of emissions cheating have also spread to other car makers, shattering diesel’s image as a clean engine and prompting several smog-clogged German cities to mull diesel driving bans.

Despite the challenges, Mueller has managed to bring VW’s share price and profits back up to pre-crisis levels, as customers appeared to largely shrug off the negative headlines.