The news is breaking out that Rupert Stadler, the CEO of Audi has been arrested in the early hours of Monday in Germany over fears of him suppressing evidence on the auto major’s emissions test cheating scandal. Audi, a car manufacturing wing of Volkswagen, has been embroiled in a case that has rocked the country over the last year, on account of its diesel engine emitting significantly higher levels of toxic gases on the road than under controlled testing conditions.
As the news of the scandal came into light, the A6 and A7 models of Audi were recalled en masse by the company citing irregularities in emissions. The trouble seemed to stem from the V6 engines that relied on a reagent called AdBlue that helped reduce nitrogen oxide emissions from the exhaust, thereby staying under the permissible limits. But the tank that held the reagent had a design flaw, as it was much smaller than required, which practically would involve users to visit the service station frequently it fill it up.
To curb the inconvenience caused, Audi engineers regulated the flow of AdBlue to make sure the reagent supply reduced drastically before the servicing time, leading to unchecked emissions from the engine. Dubbed the “Dieselgate” authorities suspect that the higher echelons of Audi were privy to this information and still chose to remain complicit to the illegal manipulation.
Pressure notwithstanding, Volkswagen admitted in 2015 to the use of illegal software to restrict the flow of AdBlue and thereby cheat emissions tests. This kicked off a media storm, with the German auto majors like Audi and Daimler also coming under the scanner.
The story has been unraveling itself for close to three years now, with evidence against the company mounting every year. Nonetheless, CEO Stadler had long swum under the radar, but the scandal has now gone too far for the company to turn things around. Last year, Zaccheo Giovanni Pamio, the head of thermodynamics in the diesel engine development department of Audi, was caught lying to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency with charges of wilful law-flouting that ran deep into the higher management of Volkswagen and Audi.
Various investigations are going forward as the German government is looking to see if the emissions test cheating was a concerted effort by all the major automakers to violate antitrust laws and breach EU air pollution standards knowingly.
Audi, on its part, has been vociferous in its denial that its higher management were collectively involved in the scandal - a defense that has been gradually falling apart. With the arrest of CEO Stadler, the number of current and ex-executives of the company that are under the scanner have come to 20.
The CEO of parent company Volkswagen Herbert Diess, had taken over the reins of the company only a few months back, and has had to endure a rocky road since then. The arrest of Stadler would only be adding salt to the wounds, as Diess desperately tries to steer the company from further controversy. The company has been trying to regroup and had fired tainted employees, to distance itself from the ensuing blame. Ulrich Weiss, the head of diesel development was one such casualty, fired from Audi after he accused Stadler in court, of knowing the wilful manipulation back in 2010.
A report from Reuters confirms that Stadler would now be questioned by the German authorities the coming Wednesday. Meanwhile, it is expected that Volkswagen will work on filling the leadership void at Audi and would release a formal statement on its interim plans this week.
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