VW probe reportedly centers on two engineers

Volkswagen and Audi vehicles have felt the impace of the continuing Dieselgate scandal. Today, articles put two engineers at the center of the scandal.

Two top VW engineers are reportedly the focus of Volkswagen’s ongoing internal investigation into Dieselgate. Dieselgate is the scandal that erupted when VW acknowledged that scamware was installed on the emission control systems of its diesel TDI models. The pair was moved into top positions in Volkswagen’s research and development effort when Martin Winterkorn became chief executive officer eight years ago. The engineers were identified in today’s Wall Street Journal as Ulrich Hackenberg and Wolfgang Hatz. They led VW’s diesel development team as the automaker was looking for a powerplant that would meet strict U.S. standards.

Today’s Wall Street Journal, quoting sources near the investigation, puts them at the center of the cheatware scandal, as well as Heinz-Jakob Neusser, a development engineering chief for VW. None of the three would comment.

VW, under a former CEO, had brought in an engine development chief, Wolfgang Bernard, from Daimler AG, about 2006. VW was seeking to improve market share in the U.S. and saw a good clean diesel engine as the way to do it. Bernard pushed development ahead and had signed a deal to use technology developed by Daimler and Robert Bosch, call BlueTec. Things abruptly changed at this point.

Although there was apparently pushback from VW’s in-house engineering staff to Bernard’s efforts, nothing came of it until the then chief executive officer, Bernd Pischetsrieder, was ousted. Winterkorn, head of Audi research and development at the time, took over. He brought his two key development aides with him, Hackenberg and Hatz.

Within a short time, the Wall Street Journal indicated, Bernard left the company, however, the engine he had developed, the EA189, stayed behind, and was rebranded a TDI diesel (turbocharging direct injection). That effort, though, was abandoned in favor of VW hardware. Around this time, Winterkorn made the decision that diesel was the way to gain a larger share of a very skeptical U.S. market.

The key problem was that they needed a clean diesel engine that returned good performance and top mileage. The TDI engines (1.6- and 2-liter) performed well, but they couldn’t meet the strict U.S. emissions rules. According to the Journal, marketers were faced with a mandate from Winterkorn to increase sales to 800,000 cars per year within a decade. This, in turn, put pressure on the diesel engineering team. They had to make a clean engine. It was at this point, according to the Journal, that the engine management software with the “defeat device” appeared in the vehicle’s software code. The code looked at variables that indicated whether a test was underway. If the software detected a test, then the engine passed U.S. emissions, if not, the engine performed normally. In the normal state, the engines emitted as much as 40 times the U.S. limits.

In a related development, another story, quoting other unnamed sources, appeared in Automotive News today, which indicated that the probe had not named anyone

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