The timeline of VW's internal deliberations could become a focal point in lawsuits filed by disgruntled investors.Weeks before Volkswagen's emissions scandal first came to light, several executives were allegedly warned that the bill could reach up to $18.5 billion.A Bild am Sonntag report cited by Reuters claims former manager Oliver Schmidt presented the estimate at an August 25 presentation attended by then-CEO Martin Winterkorn.
If true, the seemingly trivial timeline clarification suggests VW was aware that big financial trouble was on the horizon but kept the deliberations secret -- and investors in the dark -- until the Environmental Protection Agency first went public with its notice of violation nearly a month later.
Company lawyers involved in a European shareholder lawsuit last year disclosed a more optimistic internal "cost-benefit calculation" that assumed any penalties would be on par with a $100 million fine levied against Hyundai-Kia for fuel efficiency exaggeration.
"Even if the fine were $100 USD per vehicle, the total penalty in the present case would amount to $50 million USD, which would have no potential effect whatsoever on share prices," the lawyers argued.
The latest allegations will presumably be vetted and debated in court as shareholders continue to seek compensation. It is unclear if the month-long delay runs afoul of Germany's ambiguous requirement that shareholders receive timely disclosures of material news that could affect stock market valuation.