2023 Author: Eric Donovan | [email protected]. Last modified: 2023-08-25 09:36
There should be more pleasant dates for the VW management board and the supervisory board of the car manufacturer than the annual general meeting this Wednesday. For the first time since the diesel scandal, management has to answer questions from shareholders.
Even before the Braunschweig public prosecutor's office issued the explosive news, the VW top was able to prepare for a very unpleasant day. But at the general meeting this Wednesday, the new investigations into possible market manipulation against ex-CEO Martin Winterkorn and the incumbent VW brand boss Herbert Diess provide additional fuel.
They bring a question that is important for many shareholders back into focus: When did the management board know about the manipulated exhaust gas values and did they inform the financial world too late? Many investors in the VW leadership have made this accusation for a long time; it is the basis for billions in claims for damages. For the first time after the emissions scandal became known, the supervisory board and management board have to answer questions from the shareholders. Behind the scenes in the group it is said that the board of directors and the supervisory board would only have to be yelled at for a day.
The company, with around 600,000 employees worldwide, has been in the greatest crisis of its 80-year history since the diesel affair was discovered last autumn. Just looking at the counter-motions, there is a threat of a broken court.
DSW wants a special test
Shareholders such as the German Association for Protection of Securities Holdings (DSW) want to force VW to conduct an independent special audit because of the information it allegedly provided to the financial world too late. In addition, many investors do not like relieving the management board and supervisory board - as the agenda provides. They are demanding the opposite in view of the crisis and how it has been dealt with so far. However, it is highly unlikely that a special audit will be approved or that discharge will be denied to the board - because the majority at VW is clear. More than half of the shares are controlled by the large Porsche / Piëch family.
The most important thing is how the family positions itself. In any case, Wolfgang Porsche and Hans Michel Piëch recently stood demonstratively behind the VW boardroom in an interview with the "Bild" newspaper. On the other hand, criticism comes mainly from smaller investors. The umbrella association of critical shareholders says: "The board of directors has not fulfilled its duty to clear up the exhaust gas scandal completely.
The advocacy group sees the group as close to the abyss anyway: "Obviously, with the diesel, VW AG has relied on technology that the group could not bring to market in compliance with the law. With further investments in the development of new diesel drives, the board is now endangering the future of the group, "write the critics. It is obvious that diesel will only be sold with significantly more expensive cleaning technology in the future. In China, VW's number one future market, they no longer played a role today. Has VW bet on the wrong horse and wants to ride it to death with no alternative?
Long session feared
Volkswagen will have to answer such questions in abundance on Wednesday. Although the group had already committed itself to its new strategy for electric cars and digitization last week, this should not silence the critics. In the group, it is expected that the annual general meeting could last into the night. "We also need humility," says VW supervisory board chairman Hans Dieter Pötsch with a view to the general meeting. "We have put ourselves in this position. Now we have to do everything we can to cope with it as well as possible." But VW is still missing many answers.
There is the USA, for example. The judge responsible for "Dieselgate" there, Charles Breyer, recently gave Volkswagen and the plaintiffs more time to propose a compromise. He postponed the deadline for details for a settlement to June 28th - originally there should have been more certainty on the eve of the shareholders' meeting. But those responsible have to put off the shareholders on Wednesday.
The US is about gigantic sums of money. So far, the VW Group has set aside a good 16 billion euros as a precaution for recalls and buybacks, possible payments to affected customers and legal risks. But is that enough? The course set by Richter Breyer is decisive for this, because VW is threatened with the thickest chunk in the USA. Analysts see a lower limit in the sum estimated so far. "We are still assuming total costs as a result of the diesel scandal in the amount of 20 to 30 billion euros," says Frank Schwope from NordLB. This range is more likely to be exceeded than undercut. And: The entire cost of the scandal should "be determined in ten years at the earliest".
Another open construction site is the question of guilt. Volkswagen commissioned the US law firm Jones Day to conduct an investigation. But their results so far will remain under lock and key until at least the end of the year. Because an interim result was "associated with unacceptable risks for Volkswagen", the Wolfsburg-based company had declared at the end of April and referred to the ongoing negotiations in the United States as a justification. They had previously promised to deliver the first results by the end of April. It remains unclear who is responsible for the errors of historical proportions, which many shareholders do not like at all. This is another reason why they are calling for a special test.
In view of this situation, it seems questionable whether Volkswagen will even manage to look ahead on Wednesday. In supervisory board circles it is said that the annual general meeting is at least suitable for a cut: as it were as the final chapter for the worst period of the crisis, which has now been running for nine months. In a year it will look different again - the hope is justified. (dpa)
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