In a significant development related to Volkswagen’s diesel emissions scandal, Rupert Stadler, the former head of Audi, Volkswagen’s luxury division, pleaded guilty to charges associated with the use of illegal software to cheat on emissions tests. Stadler’s guilty plea makes him the highest-ranking executive to be convicted in connection with the scandal. The charges against him include fraud and false certification.
During a court hearing, Stadler expressed his admission of wrongdoing and regret for his failure to prevent the sale of manipulated vehicles even after the scandal had become public knowledge. As part of an agreement with the judge and prosecutors, Stadler entered the plea, which will result in probation instead of imprisonment. Additionally, he has been ordered to pay a fine of 1.1 million euros ($1.2 million) as a comprehensive acknowledgment of guilt.
This development comes after three lower-ranking managers also reached plea deals in the ongoing 2 1/2-year-long trial in Munich. The prosecutors alleged that Stadler allowed vehicles equipped with the rigged software to be sold after September 2015, when the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) issued a notice of violation under the Clean Air Act, exposing the manipulation.
The illicit software in question enabled emission controls to activate when the cars were undergoing tests, while they would disable during regular road use. This deceptive tactic allowed the vehicles to pass inspections despite emitting significantly higher levels of nitrogen oxide, a harmful pollutant that poses health risks to individuals.
The repercussions of the diesel emissions scandal were severe for Volkswagen, resulting in fines and settlements that exceeded $30 billion. Moreover, two U.S. executives were sentenced to prison as a result of their involvement in the scandal. The incident also led to a major shift in the automotive industry away from diesel engines, which had previously accounted for nearly half of the European auto market. The scandal further expedited the industry’s transition towards electric vehicles.
As a response to the controversy, Volkswagen has transformed itself into one of the world’s largest manufacturers of battery-only vehicles, emphasizing its commitment to sustainable mobility. Meanwhile, Martin Winterkorn, the former CEO of Volkswagen who resigned following the EPA’s announcement in 2015, faces charges from both U.S. and German authorities. However, due to health reasons, he cannot be extradited to the U.S., and the German proceedings against him have been stalled.