New documents substantiate agreement suspicion German automaker

Dusseldorf, FrankfurtThe words were underlined, bold and apparently chosen to stifle any contradiction in the bud. According to an e-mail from Audi's technical department, which reached many managers in October 2008, there was a clear "order to cut costs" for this exhaust system. An extension of the tanks for Adblue, a mixture of urea and water to neutralize the diesel exhaust, is therefore excluded.

Audi is not alone with the opinion, it says in the newspaper. It is expected that it will only be a solid basis for a long-term strategy for tank volumes in the US in the autumn of 2009, the letter continues. Then it is referred to the prominent colleagues: "This assessment is also carried by the houses VW, BMW and Daimler."

Strategy plans are common in companies. But also between competitors? Already months ago, the Handelsblatt reported on an Audi presentation about the "Clean Diesel Strategy", which suggests that there was agreement in the area of ​​Adblue tanks on where else competition should prevail.

There was talk of a "Commitment of German car manufacturers at board level". It was a binding obligation of the participating car manufacturers to limit the Adblue tanks installed in their diesel vehicles to certain volumes. No automaker can go out.

A day later, the & # 39; mirror & # 39; a great story about a comprehensive agreement in many areas, from technology to contract terms for suppliers. First, Daimler reported the possible antitrust violations for the EU competition authority, followed shortly by Volkswagen. Both clearly hope for a leniency discount. Anyone who first displays the anti-competitive machinations can then hope for a subsidy of up to 100 percent.

Still carrying out the preliminary investigation. EU Competition Commissioner Margrethe Vestager hinted in the spring that it could be expensive: "If the suspicion against German car manufacturers is confirmed in court, they are faced with heavy fines."

Now further e-mails, which are available for the Handelsblatt, conclude that the car companies have found a common cause in the cleaning of the exhaust gas. The documents are part of the case file of the public prosecutor, Braunschweig, who has been investigating fraud and prosecution against 39 suspects from the VW environment since the autumn of 2015. The most prominent of them: the former VW boss Martin Winterkorn.


It is certain that Volkswagen has used a special software. The program recognized whether a vehicle was moving on the test bench or in traffic. The focus of the antitrust monitors is on engines developed by VW subsidiary Audi and equipped with a so-called SCR catalytic converter. SCR stands for "selective catalytic reduction". Behind this is a chemical process that converts toxic nitrogen oxides into harmless nitrogen and water vapor with Adblue.

On the way the Adblue injection was easily completed. The vehicles were able to reach the 10,000-mile range (approximately 16,000 kilometers) needed in the US – without having to refill Adblue. But they then emit a multitude of toxic gases. The legal limits were far exceeded.

"That would be a disaster for the clean diesel strategy in North America"

The importance of this topic in the VW Group can be seen in an e-mail from April 2008. "For the successful positioning of the Touareg with Clean Diesel on the American and Canadian market, it is necessary that the number of AdBlue cars. ; s is maintained during service intervals of 10,000 miles, "it says. Under no circumstances may the customer be forced to refill earlier. "This would be a disaster for the whole clean diesel strategy in North America."

It seemed all the more important that VW united with the competition – not to arouse suspicion among the authorities in the US and Europe. That went well for years. In the autumn of 2015 the diesel scandal broke out at VW. The affair finally called the EU competition authority the plan.

It should now be very interested in the new findings from the prosecutor files. Because in the approximately 16,000 pages of the main file, information repeatedly emerges that confirms the suspicion of cartel formation. At the end of 2008, Audi decided to install only small Adblue tanks in its own cars.

The head of aggregate development then wrote to colleagues, he doubted whether a solo effort is possible: "I understand that Audi together with the other manufacturers, the issue for a year still lie."

How the car companies ultimately together for the development of new exhaust systems, extensively reported to an engineer the researchers. As an employee of a supplier, he had to develop so-called mixed systems for the car manufacturers Audi, BMW, Daimler, Porsche and Volkswagen. This AdBlue must be fed into the exhaust stream so that as many nitrogen oxides as possible can be rendered harmless.

The amount of Adblue was decisive for the effectiveness of the exhaust system, he reported. In his calculations, he realized that the Adblue tank capacity would never have been sufficient within a maintenance interval to meet the emission standards.

Addressed by the Handelsblatt about the matter, the engineer said that this was probably never intended. Already at the time of commissioning, the car companies had written in the specification that one liter of Adblue per 1000 kilometers would be sufficient. In reality, three or more liters are needed for such a distance, he pointed out.

It was noticeable that individual car manufacturers had each made the standard of one liter. "That was very unusual," said the technician. He does not want to see his name in the paper because he has already been sanctioned by his former employer. After he had expressed his criticism of Volkswagen, he was fired as a scammer and troublemaker, he reported. Today it is known that he had been right about his objections.

Warning for the competition

Almost all manufacturers have finally built surprisingly small Adblue tanks. In any case too small to meet the environment without having to refill Adblue often. When the authorities knew it, the competitors warned each other, as documents show.

For example, at the end of 2012, a head of a VW department sent a Daimler technician an e-mail Alarm: "Meeting with the German authorities on 5 December 2012 … Comments on working group of the defeat device Audi, BMW, Daimler, Porsche and VW. " Defeat Device – This term stands for the software that can shut off the exhaust gas cleaning on the road.

Were those responsible afraid of the discovery of their secret ranks? The manufacturers are silent. Daimler and Volkswagen almost literally emphasize their "full cooperation with the authorities". BMW refers to the ongoing investigations by the authorities, which means that such questions can not be answered.

However, it was important for the Group to make a clear distinction between possible violations of antitrust laws and targeted manipulation of exhaust gas cleaning. "The latter has not been accused of BMW Group." An alleged "Defeat Device workgroup" is also not known to the company.

Maybe just a matter of formulating? In any case, the manufacturers apparently had conversations that seemed rather unusual among competitors. Discussions for which the European top competitor Vestager has little left. She does not see much difference between the business practices of US internet companies and those of German car manufacturers, the EU commissioner said. Then she only imposed a fine of 4.34 billion euros against Google.