Volkswagen's top U.S. executive steps down amid ongoing probe

Wed Mar 9, 2016 10:05pm EST
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By David Shepardson

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Volkswagen AG's top U.S. executive is stepping down nearly six months after the German automaker admitted to installing software to allow 580,000 diesel U.S. vehicles to emit excess emissions, the company said on Wednesday.

Michael Horn, who has been president and chief executive officer of Volkswagen Group of America since 2014, is leaving by mutual agreement "to pursue other opportunities effective immediately," VW said.

Horn, 54, could not immediately be reached. A lawyer for Horn did not immediately return a call seeking comment.

The German automaker said on an interim basis, Hinrich J. Woebcken, a former BMW executive who ran global purchasing among other jobs, is filling Horn's job. In January, VW named Woebcken as head of VW's North American region, effective April 1.

Horn sent an email to employees thanking them for supporting him and for pulling together during the crisis.

Horn's departure comes as VW continues to negotiate with California, the Justice Department and Environmental Protection Agency on possible fixes or buybacks for the diesel vehicles that emit up to 40 times legally allowable pollution. It faces a March 24 deadline to tell a federal judge whether it has an acceptable fix.

A top California official told state lawmakers Tuesday that VW may only be able to mount a partial fix and may have to pay to mitigate the harm caused by allowing vehicles to remain on the road.

Volkswagen faces an ongoing Justice Department criminal investigation. The Justice Department sued VW in January seeking up to $46 billion for violating environmental regulations and sent VW a civil subpoena under a bank fraud law.   Continued...

Michael Horn, President and CEO of Volkswagen America, introduces the new Beetle Dune at the LA Auto Show in Los Angeles, California, United States in a November 18, 2015 file photo. REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson/Files