The head of Volkswagenâ€™s American operations, Michael Horn, unexpectedly stepped down from the company on March 8th.Â Horn was viewed as a central figure in the auto makerâ€™s efforts to repair its image following the recent Dieselgate scandal involving millions of VW and Audi diesel vehicles.Â
After being named to the top spot in the United States two years ago, Mr. Horn played a crucial role in rebuilding Volkswagenâ€™s relationship with its dealership network, gaining the support of the sales force on the ground. Car dealers in the United States had long complained about the lack of support they received from the companyâ€™s managers in Germany.
The Dieselgate scandal â€“ in which Volkswagen has admitted that millions of its vehicles were equipped with defeat devices designed to fool emissions testing equipment — further strained the relationship between the German carmaker and its U.S.-based dealer network.Â Mr. Horn was instrumental in VWâ€™s efforts to repair that relationship by, among other things, offering to reimburse dealers for the cost of holding onto diesel cars and providing extra incentives for selling gasoline-powered vehicles.
Now, dealers are wondering about the direction of management. Alan Brown, who is the chairman of the Volkswagen National Dealer Advisory Council and runs two Volkswagen dealerships in Texas, said Mr. Hornâ€™s departure was a serious blow.Â â€śWe are troubled watching the mismanagement of this scandal from Germany, and how it may impact the ultimate decisions by the authorities in the United States,â€ť the Volkswagen dealers association said in a statement. â€śThis change in management can only serve to put the company at more risk, not less.â€ť
The departure of Mr. Horn is the latest in a string of executive changes at Volkswagen since the scandal. The companyâ€™s chief executive resigned last year. A newly named head of North American operations left shortly after that group was reorganized
The departure of Mr. Horn, which the company said was reached by â€śmutual agreement,â€ť is effective immediately. The company offered few details, except to say that Mr. Horn was leaving to pursue other opportunities.Â Rumors, however, have swirled that Horn was forced out.
â€śThe Volkswagen leadership hammer continues to fall,â€ť said Akshay Anand, an analyst at Kelley Blue Book, who noted that Mr. Horn had many allies among Volkswagenâ€™s dealers in the United States. â€śIt will be interesting to see if Woebcken can continue that, and more importantly, if he can help VW navigate through its crisis.â€ť
Volkswagen is currently facing hundreds of lawsuits filed by owners of the VW, Audi, and Porsche vehicles involved in the emissions cheating scandal. The German automakers may also be facing billions in fines as a result of a Justice Department lawsuit filed over the Dieselgate scandal. Legal experts say that executives and engineers at VW may also face criminal charges over the companyâ€™s emissions cheating, although so far no charges have been filed in the U.S.Â So far, VW has set aside $7.4 billion to deal with their potential liability, but experts believe their ultimate exposure could be several times that amount.
The vehicles included in the Volkswagen diesel recall include the 2009-2015 Audi A3 TDI, the 2016 Audi A6 Quattro, the 2016 Audi A7 Quattro, the 2016 Audi A8, the 2016 Audi A8L, the 2016 Audi Q5, the 2015 Porsche Cayenne, the 2009-2015 Volkswagen Beetle TDI, the 2009-2015 Volkswagen Golf TDI, the 2009-2015 Volkswagen Jetta TDI, the 2012-2015 Volkswagen Passat TDI, and the 2014 Volkswagen Toureg.
Owners of one of the Volkswagen or Audi â€śTDI Clean Dieselâ€ť models that were recalled by VW may be eligible to join the numerous lawsuits that have already been filed against the German automakers. Numerous commercial fraud lawsuits and class action litigation claims have already been filed against Volkswagen by VW and Audi owners who purchased or leased one of the recalled automobiles. As Volkswagenâ€™s admissions in the Dieselgate scandal have made clear, the company knew for years that it was selling vehicles that failed to meet U.S. emissions standards and fraudulently lied to its customers by touting the eco-friendly technology of these vehicles.
The law firm of Heygood, Orr & Pearson has filed lawsuit on behalf of VW owners whose vehicles were affected by the companyâ€™s emissions cheating. One of our partners, Michael Heygood, was recently named to the Plaintiffsâ€™ Steering Committee of attorneys who will oversee the early stages of the Multidistrict Litigation (or MDL) in California involving the Dieselgate scandal. Our attorneys expect to remain involved in these cases throughout the litigation process as we work to achieve the best results possible for our clients who were harmed by Volkswagenâ€™s fraudulent conduct.
If you purchased or leased one of the VW, Audi, or Porsche diesel-powered vehicles involved in the Dieselgate recall, contact the lawyers at Heygood, Orr & Pearson to learn more about whether you qualify to file a lawsuit. For a free legal consultation about your case, please contact us by calling toll-free at 1-877-446-9001, or by following the link to our free case evaluation form and answering a few simple questions to get started.