“Dieselgate” – the pre-programmed scandal

The legendary VW boss Heinrich Nordhoff quickly led the group to unimagined heights after the Second World War thanks to the bestselling Beetle. Nordhoff was the strong man. "The patriarchal system started with him at VW." This is what Mark C says and writes. Schneider, business journalist and connoisseur of the automotive industry.

Schneider presented his new book "Volkswagen" on Friday evening. A German History" at the Graff bookstore in Braunschweig. His interlocutor was VW General Works Council Chairman Bernd Osterloh. Armin Maus, editor-in-chief of our newspaper, moderated. According to Schneider, Nordhoff's successors Carl Hahn, Ferdinand Piech and Martin Winterkorn took an example from the first strong man at Volkswagen. "In Wolfsburg, it is the heroism of the individual that has been celebrated so far, not the collective of the swarm."Women would never have played a role in the operational business. "Dieselgate" with responsible female managers and engineers? Improbable."

In recent history, it was the overfathers Piech and Winterkorn who led the company to extreme heights. But they would not have prevented the company from facing an existential crisis with the emissions scandal. "Distrustful, power-obsessed and fear-mongering, the master and his master student failed to recognize the signs of the times," Schneider read from his book, which is on the shortlist for the 2016 German Business Book Prize. According to Schneider, the two also play a major role in the fact that VW is now having to belatedly initiate the transition to e-mobility or autonomous driving, now that the billions in claims due to "Dieselgate" are weighing on the company.

Osterloh disagreed: "I find it difficult to pin all this on just one man." He meant Winterkorn, the ex-chief executive officer. Osterloh expressly did not name the technology-obsessed Piech, the dominant figure in the auto empire for a long time. Instead, he admitted: "The flight of fancy has made us blind."

Asked by Maus why he wrote his book in such a matter-of-fact style, Schneider replied, "There is no need for dramatization at all."The Group has experienced ups and downs at regular intervals and has often been on the brink of collapse. "You just have to tell the story sensibly, that's quite enough."

The author experienced first-hand that VW is sometimes like the TV series "Denver Clan" – quotation from Schneider. In 2013, as "Handelsblatt" editor, he wrote an article about Piech's imminent retirement for health reasons. It hit like a bomb, but proved to be a hoax. Schneider had the wrong sources. "When Piech was mad, suddenly everyone was mad at me," said Schneider. "No one wanted to be seen with me anymore." This, too, is typical of the hierarchically structured corporation. "This is how VW works."

Another of Schneider's theories: the VW colos always has to almost hit the wall before it initiates change. "This was already the case in the 1970s, when the Group relied for too long on the once successful Beetle model." Thus, he said, the mistakes at the overall low-yielding core brand VW are also homemade today. The author expresses it in such a way: "The Wolfsburger stand with their arrogance often in the way themselves." Osterloh agreed with Schneider in parts. Referring to missed customer requests in Brazil or India, he said, "We thought we knew what people's tastes were around the world."

Schneider criticized VW however not only. Once the colos moves, "then with all its might". Otherwise, the group would not have been so successful over the years. With regard to the current challenges, Osterloh explained that the staff had long been urging the board to make changes.

Schneider believes the substance in the group is great. And for all his criticism of the group, he said, "Perhaps the most exciting part of the company's story is just beginning."

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