Volkswagen’s new CEO, Matthias Müller, at a press conference    

Top-ranking Volkswagen officials on Friday cast blame for the company’s large-scale diesel emissions-fixing scandal on a small number of unidentified and relatively low-level engineers and technicians.

In public statements issued at the company’s headquarters in Wolfsburg, Germany, new CEO Matthias Müller condemned the “unlawful behavior of engineers and technicians involved in engine development.”

Müller, former head of Porsche, took over after Martin Winterkorn resigned from the position of CEO earlier this week claiming he is “not aware” of any wrongdoing on his part.

The company built a software “defeat device” that allowed cars to cheat on emissions control tests and spew up to 40 times the level of pollutants legally permitted. The scandal is now known to have affected 11 million cars worldwide.

Echoing Müller, other top officials publicly condemned the lower-ranking workers they say are responsible.

Bernd Osterloh, chairperson of the company’s work council who also sits on the executive committee, charged: “A small group has done damage to our company. We need a climate where mistakes are not hidden.”

Berthold Huber, acting head of the company’s supervisory board, stated: “The supervisory board has, on the basis of current information, recommended suspending some employees immediately until the whole case is cleared up.” It is not immediately clear who faced disciplinary action.

“The test manipulations are a moral and political disaster for Volkswagen,” Huber continued. “The unlawful behavior of engineers and technicians involved in engine development shocked Volkswagen just as much as it shocked the public.”

Mother Jones political blogger Kevin Drum wrote Saturday that he is not buying the company’s claims.

“This is ridiculous,” Drum argued. “What incentive do low-level engineers and technicians have to do this on their own?”

“Hell, they couldn’t even take on a project like this unless their managers OKed the time to do it, and their managers wouldn’t do it unless they were being pressed by higher-ups,” Drum continued. “Anybody who’s ever worked at a big corporation knows this perfectly well.”

Consumer advocates, meanwhile, are demanding that the company pay for the full environmental and social costs of its fraud, which they say belies broad irresponsibility across the auto industry.

“VW must still pay full penalties under law and grant full rebates to the customers it deceived into buying pollution-spewing cars that led to massive, undeserved profits,” declared Ed Mierzwinski, consumer program director of US PIRG, in a statement issued Wednesday.

And in the widely-read business magazine Forbes, a columnist raged that the sins of Volkswagen showed the dark side of the capitalist system. “The conclusion can only be that for Volkswagen CSR (corporate social responsibility) is a marketing exercise,” wrote Professor Enrique Dans, of the IE Business School in Madrid.

“But the sad truth is that this conclusion applies to the vast majority of companies: a head of CSR is appointed, given an air of respectability, and runs a department the job of which is to keep the company’s image clean, despite the filth it is mired in, as is clearly the case with Volkswagen. Once again, we have allowed ourselves to be duped into believing that companies can and will regulate themselves, when of course the sordid reality is that as their actions show, beyond the occasional symbolic act, their sole objective is to maximize profit, and by any means.”

Sarah Lazare is a staff writer for Common Dreams. This article has been respublished (and slightly modified) under a Creative Commons licence. 

Sarah Lazare

Sarah Lazare has worked as a staff writer for Common Dreams since June 2013. She comes from a background in independent journalism for publications including The Nation, Al Jazeera, TomDispatch, Common...