VW’s Michael Horn Resigns…or Forced Out?

Depends on who you ask. After Dieselgate was blown wide open, Volkswagen’s North America CEO Michael Horn had become the face of the ...

Depends on who you ask.

After Dieselgate was blown wide open, Volkswagen’s North America CEO Michael Horn had become the face of the company. He is now famous for admitting rather bluntly that the company “screwed up” and apologised repeatedly in many of his public appearances - even during auto shows and while giving testimony in Congress - although he is widely believed to have been far removed from any of the decisions which led to the cheating, which is why he was one of the few top executives who didn’t get the boot. He has also managed to stay in the good books of the American dealers who, it is believed, were vocal with their support. In pleading their case, the dealers had reportedly said that Horn leaving would be “nothing short of catastrophic.

So, it was a shocker when VW announced last Wednesday that Horn was leaving the company “effective immediately” and “through mutual agreement”. Hmm…sounds like much has been left unsaid. Horn had dedicated his last 26 years to VW, so his sudden departure has been raising more than some eyebrows and angered his supporters. VW’s PR department told nosy reporters that Horn is “leaving at his own request”, but even voluntary resignations take a few months and usually timed for the end of a quarter, not early March.

News coming out of Texas soon after the announcement could shed some light on Horn’s sudden resignation. A Texan dealer, Alan Brown, claims that Horn was forced out due to conflicts with management. According to Brown - who spoke to the Associated Press - the Chairman of VW, Herbert Diess, introduced a new executive to oversee Horn’s position, and had planned to move Horn to another top position. Horn was none too pleased.

Brown also claims that the management disagreed with Horn’s gesture of goodwill to mend relationships with the 600,000 American customers who owned VW’s polluting diesel vehicles; the programme includes a US$1,000 gift card to use at the dealerships. Now, dealers are worried that the company will back out of promises made while Horn was still in charge.

Other reports claim otherwise. Forbes quoted an unnamed source who says that Horn did indeed want out of VW and, in fact, out of the country altogether. In a class action lawsuit filed against Volkswagen et al, Horn’s name appears alongside current CEO Matthias Müller, former CEO Martin Winterkorn, current Audi CEO Rupert Stadler and supplier Bosch CEO Volkmar Denner as co-defendents. Horn is the only American on the list while the others are based in Germany where the American Justice has no jurisdiction.

A 24 March deadline is looming for the company to finalise a government-approved plan to fix the affected cars and reverse their effects. Brown says that the brand’s relationship with the dealer network is now “hanging by a thread”. VW can also expect a spate of lawsuits and over US$20 billion in fines, and an investigation by the Justice Department.

image: usatoday.com

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