Hallway Radio expects more heads to roll at Volkswagen’s top

DIY decapitation

DIY decapitation

Volkswagen famously needs twice the people as Toyota to make 10 million cars a year. Volkswagen has begun culling its ranks in an unorthodox way: At the top. Tomorrow, Wednesday, Volkswagen’s Supervisory Board will convene, and a day later, CEO Matthias Müller and Supervisory Board Chairman Hans Dieter Pötsch will meet the press to give a dieselgate update. Any management board level changes need approval by the supervisors, so Thursday is the day when new decapitations, some expected, some not, may be announced.

Audi’s Supervisory Board met last week, and it promptly announced that Audi’s R&D Chief Ulrich Hackenberg “has reached a mutual agreement with the Supervisory Board of AUDI AG to step down.” Hackenberg was replaced by a widely unknown Stefan Knirsch. That “Hacki” is out is old news to the esteemed reader of the Dailykanban. The dear reader knew since late September that Volkswagen’s rockstar engineer has been put on administrative leave; he was in the first wave of firings.

Back then, you could read here that Volkswagen’s current Heinz-Jakob Neusser, and Porsche’s R&D chief Wolfgang Hatz were likewise sent on vacation. As of this writing, Neusser is still listed as a member of the Board of Management of the Volkswagen brand. Hatz also is officially Porsche’s R&D Chief.

When Hackenberg was taken out of service in September, he lawyered up and threatened law suits. The “mutual agreement” elicited waves of “yeah, sure” on Volkswagen’s Hallway Radio, along with speculations of how golden his parachute may have been. Assuming that by now, Neusser has finished negotiations about the size of his Dankeschön present from VW, the announcement of his departure may come after the Wednesday board meeting.

Then, there may be a surprise announcement. The Beijing Studio of the Hallway Radio reports that Volkswagen’s China chief Jochem Heizmann could be on the way out. If you listen intently to after-hours talk at Schindler’s Anlegestelle, the German beer hall around the corner from VW’s China HQ in Beijing’s Sanlitun, a German-speaker in China will hear that the 63 year old Heizmann could go into early retirement in the first quarter of 2016. According to multiple inebriated sources at the pub, Heizmann and Winterkorn were members of the same rope team. Volkswagen’s Works Council chief Bernd Osterloh tried repeatedly to get rid of Heizmann, the Hallway Radio claims, but Winterkorn protected his man in China. With Winterkorn gone, and with China sales down, Heizmann’s job could be a lost position.

If Heizmann retires, or is “verrentet” as the saying goes in Wolfsburg, then a big planning problem would be solved also. Heizmann has a group level board seat, and China is the only market that has a special ambassador at Volkswagen’s top. Looks messy on the new org-charts. Once VW gets out of its dieselgate funk and is able to do the big re-org, the individual brand groups will have worldwide responsibility, and Heizmann’s job would be superfluous. As a successor in the China-job, but not on the board of the Volkswagen Group, the Hallway Radio sees Thomas Ulbrich, currently production chief at BVolkswagen Passenger Cars.

One step down from Heizmann, China sales chief Soh Weiming also is said to be under renewed fire. Hallway Radio sources say that new Volkswagen brand sales chief Jürgen Stackmann has compatibility issues with the cigar-chomping China salesman Soh. Throughout his career hat Volkswagen, Soh was the target of heavy mud-slinging, but somehow, he always came out clean.

There is one announcement many voices on the Hallways Radio would like to hear, but they probably won’t: The removal of the quality assurance chiefs of all Volkswagen brands that are involved with diesel- and CO2gate. Quality Assurance has to watch engineering and production, and keep them from doing and producing bad things. QA has failed, and most likely looked the other way while engineers were cheating, the Hallway Radio says. The QA chief of Volkswagen is Manfred Bort, at Audi, it’s Werner Zimmermann.
P.S.: Porsche’s Supervisory Board met last week, and to the surprise of the attentive observer, the name of the “vacationing” R&D chief Wolfgang Hatz wasn’t mentioned. The Hallway Radio speculates that he may be back. Hatz also serves as head of Engines and Transmissions Development for the Volkswagen Group, It would either be a miracle, or utter incompetence if Hatz didn’t know of any shenanigans, but miracles and incompetence do happen.

Standard disclaimer: Hallway radio reports reflect the current buzz of Volkswagen’s internal rumor mill, and as such the reports are not always correct. No responsibility is taken for the correctness of this information. However, the radio has a very high batting average, so far, at least.