Martin Winterkorn, embattled chief executive of Volkswagen and public face of the company’s disastrous “defeat device,” said Wednesday that he is stepping down. His decision follows the unveiling of an emissions-rigging scandal in which Volkswagen systematically cheated on U.S. air pollution tests.
While the full toll of the damage is yet to be taken, the scheme is likely to go down as one of the worst and most environmentally harmful of its kind in corporate history. From 2008 to 2015, Volkswagen programmed as many as 11 million vehicles to detect when federal air pollution tests were being conducted on its diesel cars and to shift to a low-emissions mode until they passed. Once that was accomplished, the cars returned to their normal state—spewing up to 40 times the legal amount of pollutants into the atmosphere.