Volkswagen denies Qatar talks sought to curb labor role

BERLIN (Reuters) - Volkswagen has denied a report saying its chief executive and chairman were urged on Sunday by its third-largest shareholder to reduce the influence of VW’s powerful unions as it battles to overcome its emissions scandal.

A Volkswagen company logo adorns the VW factory in Wolfsburg, Germany November 20, 2015. REUTERS/Ina Fassbender

CEO Matthias Mueller and Chairman Hans Dieter Poetsch met with leaders of the Qatar Investment Authority (QIA) in Doha on Sunday to discuss the state of investigations into its cheating of emissions tests, as well as VW’s new company structure and future business focus, two people familiar with the matter said.

Germany’s Bild am Sonntag newspaper, without citing sources, said earlier the QIA would use the meeting to demand a scaling back of the role of VW’s works council.

The council, whose representatives hold as many seats on the company’s 20-member supervisory board as shareholders, has long wielded great influence at the German company and has headed off cost cuts in the past.

“Co-determination (joint decision-making by corporate and labor representatives) and the (role of the) works council were not on the agenda of the talks,” said a VW spokesman, who earlier described Mueller’s visit to Qatar as communicating with “an important partner.”

The QIA, which holds a 17 percent stake in Europe’s largest automaker, declined to comment, as did VW’s works council.

The emissions scandal has wiped billions off VW’s stock market value and Mueller has said the firm will have to make massive cuts to meet a bill which analysts say could top 40 billion euros ($44 billion) for fines, lawsuits and vehicle refits.

VW’s supervisory board, which includes two members from the QIA, will hold an out-of-sequence meeting on Dec. 9 to discuss the state of investigations as well as luxury division Audi, where 3.0 liter V6 diesel engines were also equipped with illegal emissions-control software.

Mueller, who is due to publish intermediate results from VW’s probe into the scandal on Dec. 10, has been pushing a corporate overhaul at VW since taking office on Sept. 25.

He is aiming to cede more power from VW’s Wolfsburg corporate headquarters to brands and regional divisions, wants to establish a less authoritarian style of management and expand the carmaker’s electric vehicle offerings.

The QIA also wanted to demand a multibillion-dollar campaign to promote electric vehicles in the United States to regain ground in the world’s second-biggest auto market, Bild am Sonntag said.

To shore up its finances, VW has told banks supplying a 20 billion-euro credit line that it would sell assets if it finds no other way of repaying the one-year loan, people familiar with the matter said.

Still, having accelerated steps this year to forge a long-desired tie-up of its truckmaking divisions, VW should do what it can to avoid a forced liquidation of assets, Andreas Renschler, the group’s trucks chief, said in an interview with Sueddeutsche Zeitung (SZ) to be published on Monday.

“A sale (of truck divisions) is currently not at all an issue for us,” Renschler, who sits on the group management board, said.

Reporting by Andreas Cremer; Additional reporting by Tom Finn; Editing by Mark Potter and Jonathan Oatis