AS far as hot seats in the car industry go, the one occupied by 57-year-old Herbert Diess became one of the hottest when Volkswagen’s global diesel-engine emissions scandal broke in September last year. Just two months before that, the Austrian national was appointed as chairman of the board of management for the Volkswagen passenger car brand. We talked to Diess on the sidelines of the Tokyo Motor Show, where he had to field tough questions from the media.
What were your first thoughts on the emissions cheat?
For me, it was really unbelievable, because upon my first contact with the company, I found a very open and trustworthy culture, with diligent people working hard to improve its products and services.
How could something so scandalous happen to a German industrial giant that prides itself on engineering integrity?
After solving the problem with the customers and dealers, we have to find out how it happened, what really happened, who was involved. It was a relatively small team in engineering that did it. It’s very hard to understand how it could happen over such a long period of time. Believe me, we question everything now, and will fully disclose what we find out, and then we will make sure that it cannot happen again.
What will be the solution to the problem that aff ects a few hundred Volkswagen passenger cars in Singapore?
For the 2-litre [turbo-diesel TDI] engines, it’s probably only a software update, which can be done relatively fast, and will be prepared for January [this month].
Does the software update reduce the effi ciency and driveability of the aff ected cars?
Our plan starts from the basis that the homologation [approval] of the car will be unchanged.The new software will find the best compromise between emissions and consumption. So far, we have no indication that [fuel] consumption will increase.
Will this misstep in diesel cars lead to a change in Volkswagen’s overall technology strategy?
We will focus more than ever on electric cars. The next Phaeton, our flagship product, will be fully electric only. We also decided to invest in an electric platform for compact cars like the Golf.
Will diesel power henceforth become less important in the Volkswagen product range?
Diesel engines will still play a major role in our product lineup. We will equip, as soon as possible, all cars with SCR [selective catalytic reduction] and AdBlue injection [which uses a chemical reaction with liquid urea to remove nitrogen oxide from the exhaust system]. It is the cleanest diesel methodology. Diesel is still the engine of choice for many vehicles and markets. We still believe in its future.
What does the future hold for Volkswagen after solving this unprecedented crisis?
Volkswagen will be able to recover, regain confidence and re-establish itself.
Volkswagen’s diesel cloud has a silver lining – the automaker now intends to boost its expertise in electric cars.