VW bosses reportedly knew of, discussed ‘defeat device’ as early as 2006

A newspaper report said Volkswagen bosses knew of the Dieselgate “defeat device” as early as 2006.

Citing the internal investigation, a German newspaper said today that the “defeat device” was an open secret at Volkswagen as long ago as 2006. Sueddeutsche Zeitung said today that even as the automaker strived to make its engines meet U.S. environmental standards, it was also developing software that would enable it to cheat on emissions tests.

The newspaper, which had researched the story with two regional broadcasters NDR and WDR, said that many managers and staff members either knew of the attempt to create “defeat devices” or were actively involved in their development. A culture of secrecy grew in the engine development department where the staff openly discussed the software as early as 2006.

For the most part, the culture effectively bottled up knowledge of the software switch outside the engine development department. However, there were some exceptions to this. A whistleblower, who is assisting investigators with the internal probe, tried to alert a senior manager of the “defeat device” in 2011. The manager did not react. The whistleblower was one of those involved in developing the “defeat device,” Sueddeutsche Zeitung indicated.

According to the newspaper report, excerpted in Automotive News today as well, the department was desperate to meet U.S. emissions regulations while also trying to produce a quick and cost-effective solution for a clean diesel engine. “Rather than reveal to the board that you cannot do this, we have opted for a fraud,” investigators were told. “Nobody had the courage to admit the failure.”

Volkswagen has indicated that it believed only a small circle of people knew about the software manipulation. Europe’s biggest automaker told the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) about it last September. The automaker also indicated that it was not aware that any of its top management or supervisory board knew of the cheatware. The scandal that was created by its admission cost former VW chief Martin Winterkorn his job last year. And, it is likely to cost the automaker a minimum of $25 billion, but likely far more when the air clears. Meantime, the automaker is facing recalls, the need to find acceptable fixes and civil lawsuits and criminal probes.

Calling the story speculation, a Volkswagen spokesman declined to comment. The U.S. law firm Jones Day was hired to conduct the ongoing investigation. No one could be reached at their Munich offices for comment as they had left for the day.

Though Volkswagen has initiated an amnesty program, seeking witnesses who could fill probers in on the issue, where the witnesses would not lose their jobs, Sueddeutsche Zeitung said prosecutors in Braunschweig were conducting an investigation into the whistleblower. Their office did not immediately return phone calls to Reuters, which also reported on this story