Volkswagen’s chief designer will retire at the end of November, the company said Friday, a move that coincides with organisational changes caused by the emissions cheating scandal. The company portrayed the departure of Walter Maria de Silva, head of group design since 2007, as a personal decision unrelated to the company’s admission that it had deceived regulators about the pollution levels of its vehicles. De Silva, an influential figure in auto design, is 64. No successor has been chosen, Volkswagen said.
De Silva’s retirement comes as Volkswagen is planning significant changes to its management structure provoked by the recent turmoil. Volkswagen has announced plans to give company brands like Audi more autonomy, responding to criticism that Volkswagen’s overly centralized management may have helped breed the wrongdoing. The decentralisation could reduce the influence of de Silva’s position within Volkswagen either by empowering designers within the individual car brands or by cost cutting. Matthias Mueller, Volkswagen chief executive, has said that all company activities will be examined for possible savings after the scandal.
Volkswagen has estimated the financial impact of the scandal at 9 billion euros ($9.78 billion). That does not include official penalties or the cost to deal with lawsuits by shareholders and owners. The figure also does not include the effect of lost auto sales. The company’s problems widened this week after it admitted understating carbon dioxide emissions and overstating fuel economy for 800,000 vehicles in Europe. Volkswagen admitted in September that 11 million cars in Europe and the United States had been programmed to cheat on tests for nitrogen oxide, a pollutant linked to lung ailments.
Mueller wrote to finance ministers in the European Union on Friday, promising to pay any additional taxes that may be due because of the false carbon dioxide figures. Most countries in Europe link vehicle taxes to output of carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas that causes global warming. Mueller asked the finance ministers to make any legal changes necessary to ensure that Volkswagen, rather than Volkswagen owners, pays the additional taxes that might be due. It is not yet possible to estimate the size of the discrepancy between carbon dioxide levels that Volkswagen claimed and the real levels, Mueller wrote.
De Silva, who was born in Italy, began his career at Fiat and later became head of design for Alfa Romeo, a Fiat division widely admired for its styling. He joined Volkswagen in 1998 as head of design for SEAT, a Volkswagen brand based in Spain. In 2002, de Silva also became head of design for Audi and Lamborghini, which belong to Volkswagen. In 2007, he became head of design for the whole company. One of de Silva’s best-known designs was the curvaceous look of the Audi A5. De Silva also designed later generations of the Volkswagen Golf, the Polo and the Up, a subcompact not sold in the United States.