Former VW Group chair Martin Winterkorn. Picture: REUTERS
Former VW Group chair Martin Winterkorn. Picture: REUTERS

German prosecutors have finally announced their intention to charge former Volkswagen (VW) Group chair Martin Winterkorn with fraud over the Dieselgate emissions-cheating scandal.

Winterkorn and four other senior VW Group executives will be charged by the Braunschweig prosecutor’s office for fraud and for violating competition law.

While the other executives have not been named, they are believed to include former VW Group director of powertrain Heinz-Jakob Neusser, former head of diesel development Falko Rudolph and ex-diesel developer Rudolph Krebs. All have been fired by Volkswagen.

Winterkorn, 71, is the biggest fish caught so far in the Dieselgate net and prosecutors insist his case of fraud is particularly serious. He resigned in September 2015 after trying to battle through the scandal over the emissions-cheating software fitted to his cars.

He had already been charged with conspiracy by the US justice department, but Germany does not often extradite its citizens to the US, so he was considered safe providing he stayed at home.

The justice department has also charged Winterkorn with conspiracy. In March, he was sued by the US Securities and Exchange Commission for failing to disclose the fraud scandal soon enough.

German prosecutors will allege that Winterkorn was made aware of the Dieselgate cheat on May 25 2015, almost 16 months before it was made public by the failure of the VW “Clean Diesel” models to pass independent US emissions testing.

Prosecutors said “particularly serious” cases of fraud could lead to 10 years in prison.

Dieselgate has so far cost the VW Group at least €29bn in fines and penalties, with even more lawsuits waiting in the wings.

Audi previews electric city car

Audi has revealed its AI:ME concept at Auto Shanghai 2019, offering a peek into what an urban commuter might look like 10 years from now.

Being small, electrically powered and having Level 4 autonomous-driving capability, the compact hatch will make an ideal car for tomorrow’s crowded cities, says Audi.

The AI:ME concept at Auto Shanghai shows what an urban Audi might look like 10 years from now. Picture: SUPPLIED
The AI:ME concept at Auto Shanghai shows what an urban Audi might look like 10 years from now. Picture: SUPPLIED

Despite its compact appearance the AI:ME measures 4.3m in length and, with the wheels pushed to the corners, offers plenty of interior room for adults. Drive comes from a 127kW electric motor at the rear axle, giving the concept sporty rear-wheel-drive handling characteristics.

The Level 4 ability means this Audi can drive itself on highways or in certain geo-fenced urban areas, but it will still have a steering wheel and pedals; Audi doesn’t necessarily foresee full Level 5 capability — where the car can totally take over driving — being available in 10 years.

There are a number of ways for occupants to interact with the AI:ME and the outside world. This includes systems to track a passenger’s eye movement, voice and hand gestures. The concept also features touch-sensitive surfaces, and for feedback there is a three-dimensional OLED monitor that is as wide as the windshield. A set of VR goggles is also present so occupants can be entertained when stuck in traffic.

The AI:ME concept won’t necessarily make it into production as is, but potentially hints at Audi’s future styling theme.

Bugatti crossover mooted

McLaren and Bugatti are two sportscar brands that have so far resisted building vehicles to feed the market’s SUV craze. But it looks like Bugatti may be about to blink.

While Bugatti president Stephan Winkelmann said the French brand won’t launch an SUV exactly, he hasn’t ruled out a high-riding model, much like Ferrari is doing with its Purosangue crossover scheduled for launch in 2022.

British CAR magazine reported that proposals for a second Bugatti model line have been submitted for final approval by VW Group senior management.

Winkelmann is no stranger to sports SUVs, having overseen the development of the Lamborghini Urus when he was president of the Italian firm.

CAR reported that the 4.0l twin-turbocharged V8 engine used in the Urus could feature in the Bugatti crossover, though with a powerful hybrid system to help boost outputs.

An even bigger Bentley SUV?

Having only recently joined the luxury SUV ranks with its Bentayga, Bentley is embracing the segment with plans for an even larger SUV.

Bentley board member in charge of engineering, Werner Tietz, has told Autocar that the company has shifted focus away from new sportscars to GTs and larger vehicles, including a second, larger SUV.

He said the US and China are particularly receptive to the idea of an SUV even bigger than the Bentayga and said such a vehicle is one opportunity we are exploring”.

Super-sizing seems the way forward for the British luxury brand and Tietz said no smaller Bentley is planned, putting paid to earlier rumours of a mid-sized SUV to slot in under the Bentayga.

Tietz also said Bentley is still undecided on whether it will join the mass trend to electric vehicles. He did confirm, however, that every one of its vehicles would have a plug-in hybrid version by 2025, and that the brand is also studying fuel-cell technology.

FCA buys COcredits from Tesla

Italian-US carmaker Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (FCA) will pay electric carmaker Tesla hundreds of millions of euros to allow Tesla vehicles to be counted in its fleet to avoid fines for violating new EU emission rules.

The step will let the Italian manufacturer offset CO2 emissions from its cars against Tesla’s, bringing down its average emissions of the greenhouse gas.

Tesla has reportedly made over $1bn in the past three years by selling emissions credits in the US, in a system that allows makers of zero-emission vehicles to earn credits and sell excess credits to other manufacturers.

A similar “open pool” exists in Europe where carmakers can combine their vehicle fleets for average CO² measurement.

It’s estimated that average CO² emissions for new cars in Europe were about 159g/km in 2007, which fell to 118g/km by 2017. It was back up to 120g/km in 2018 after diesel cars, which were largely responsible for the CO² improvement, fell out of favour after the Dieselgate scandal.

The EU target is an industry-wide figure of 95g/km in 2021, with car companies to face tough fines for exceeding it. Achieving it will be difficult due to the market shift to heavier, less fuel-efficient SUVs, which is why carmakers are aggressively investing in zero-emission electric vehicles.