KELLY MCEVERS, HOST:
The chief executive of Volkswagen abruptly resigned today just days after the company admitted it had rigged vehicles to pass emissions tests. Volkswagen's board said the CEO had no knowledge of the wrongdoing, but the board says it will seek to prosecute any VW employees who were involved. NPR's Chris Arnold has the latest.
CHRIS ARNOLD, BYLINE: CEO Martin Winterkorn said in a statement that he was, quote, "shocked" by what's happened in the past few days and stunned by the scope of the offenses. But he said he is clearing the way for a fresh start by stepping down.
PAUL INGRASSIA: It's been an amazing week. I'm not surprised that Winterkorn did step down as CEO. I mean, I think it was the right thing for him to do.
ARNOLD: That's Paul Ingrassia. He's covered the auto industry for 30 years, and he's now managing editor of Tomson Reuters in London. He says these revelations have now toppled a powerful CEO.
INGRASSIA: This was a guy had just prevailed in a boardroom bareknuckle brawl against the chairman of the board earlier this year. And the board had backed him. And ironically, the board was scheduled to meet Friday with the express purpose of extending his contract, you know? So this was a really stunning turn of events.
ARNOLD: It's, of course, also a nasty surprise for anybody who bought a Volkswagen diesel recently. Kathleen Williams works for the county of Clermont, Ohio, and she bought a red TDI Sportswagon just last summer.
KATHLEEN WILLIAMS: It's just so outrageous. I mean, to me, it's a, you know, this tremendous fraud perpetrated on its customers who deliberately bought these clean-diesel engines because they thought they were, you know, they were clean diesel and they also got good mileage. So I - and then that 11 million cars are affected by it is just real betrayal of customers' trust.
ARNOLD: There is still a lot that we don't know about when or what a recall fix might be. But auto-industry experts say if you fix the emissions, that's likely to hurt the gas mileage and the performance of the cars - just how much, we don't know. But Williams says, to her, it will never be the car that she thought she was buying.
WILLIAMS: I frankly don't know of any kind of engineering fixes they can do that would make the kinds of things happen that they promised when I bought the car because if they could do that, that would've - they would've done it to begin with, and they would've have cheated in this way. So I think that they should offer to buy back the cars at the price that we paid for them.
ARNOLD: Volkswagen is going to appease not only angry customers but a growing number of prosecutors and regulators around the entire world. Paul Ingrassia...
INGRASSIA: Italy is now beginning its investigation. France is beginning an investigation. I'm sure something will happen here in the United Kingdom. You know, in American, this may well evolve into a criminal investigation. There will be class-action lawsuits - already are on two fronts. Korea is about to begin an investigation.
ARNOLD: All that has driven Volkswagen stock down 30 percent over the past week. Chris Arnold, NPR News.
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