February 12, 2018 / 11:05 PM / 9 days ago

UPDATE 1-VW Chairman sees no reason to question CEO position

* Poetsch aims to quench rumors about frustrated CEO

* Mueller’s contract to expire in 2020

* Poetsch trivializes scandal, “What crisis?” (Adds more Poetsch comments and background)

LINZ, Austria, Feb 12 (Reuters) - Volkswagen Chairman Hans Dieter Poetsch said on Monday there is no reason to question the position of the carmaker’s top executive.

Sources close to the top management of Europe’s largest automaker have told Reuters that Chief Executive Matthias Mueller was growing frustrated by a lack of support for his reform efforts and by the company’s inability to draw a line under its emissions scandal.

But Poetsch sought to stifle any speculation about Mueller potentially growing weary of office. The contract of the 64-year-old Mueller, who took the reins at Volkswagen (VW) a week after the “dieselgate” scandal was revealed, will expire in 2020.

“Now is not the right occasion to say something about this,” Poetsch told reporters late on Monday at a business event in Linz, Austria. “I believe there is also no background to this.”

VW has struggled to rebuild its reputation after admitting in 2015 that it had cheated exhaust emissions tests, a task that was made harder by revelations earlier this year about how the carmaker exposed monkeys to toxic exhaust fumes.

Nearly two-and-a-half years after the “dieselgate” scandal, VW is grappling with investigations and lawsuits around the world and about $30 billion in fines and costs for the fraud just as it pushes a multi-billion strategic shift to electric and self-driving cars.

Despite the challenges, VW seems to be succeeding in putting the scandal behind it as far as the consumer market is concerned.

Sales of the core VW brand set a new record at 6.23 million cars last year and VW said earlier on Monday that its deliveries jumped 7.1 percent in January.

“It has become clear meanwhile that the company is on a very successful path operationally,” said Poetsch who had been VW’s finance chief throughout the period that VW managers were installing the illicit emissions software and subsequently tried to conceal its existence.

VW, whose legal liability can still grow if it turned out that top executives had prior knowledge of the fraud, continued to downplay the biggest corporate scandal in its 81-year history.

Asked when VW will finally be able to fully overcome its crisis, Poetsch replied: “What crisis?”

The 66-year-old has been investigated by German prosecutors for more than a year over suspicion that VW manipulated the markets by withholding key information about the scandal from shareholders.

“There are always topics that one is obliged to deal with,” Poetsch said. “I think we are moving very well on the diesel issue.” (Reporting by Kirsti Knolle; Additional reporting by Ilona Wissenbach, Andreas Cremer and Jan Schwartz; Editing by Adrian Croft)

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