Volkswagen CEO Martin Winterkorn resigned on Wednesday, taking responsibility for the German carmaker’s rigging of U.S. emissions tests in the biggest scandal in its 78-year history.
“Volkswagen needs a fresh start – also in terms of personnel. I am clearing the way for this fresh start with my resignation,” Winterkorn said in a statement.
He said he was shocked by events of the past few days, above all that misconduct on such a massive scale was possible at the company.
A five-member executive committee had grilled Winterkorn, 68, since morning at the company’s headquarters in Wolfsburg, Germany. The company was under huge pressure to take decisive action, with its shares down more than 30 percent in value since the crisis broke, and the bad news still coming.
German prosecutors said on Wednesday they were conducting a preliminary investigation into the manipulation of vehicle emission test results at Volkswagen, while French Energy Minister Segolene Royal said her country would be “extremely severe” if its investigation into the firm found any wrongdoing.
U.S. authorities are planning criminal investigations after discovering that Volkswagen programmed computers in its cars to detect when they were being tested and alter the running of their diesel engines to conceal their true emissions.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel had urged Volkswagen to move “as quickly as possible” to restore confidence in a company held up for generations as a paragon of German engineering prowess.
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