There's no doubt at this point that Volkswagen cheated on diesel emissions tests. The question is how far it went up the chain, and how long ago the top leadership may have known about it. And now we may have an answer, if not a definitive one.

According to correspondence obtained by German newspaper Bild am Sonntag, Martin Winterkorn – who was still serving as chief executive of the company at the time – received an email from one of his underlings back in May of 2014. The note reportedly alerted the boss that US regulators could discover the cheating feature in the vehicle's software. If the source is proven to be authentic, the correspondence would remove much doubt about Winterkorn – and indeed other members of the company's senior executives – having known about the misleading measures the engineers put in place to disguise just how much noxious emissions their diesel-powered vehicles produced.

Winterkorn resigned this past September after news of the scandal broke, ending a long career at the company that stretched back to 1993. He was named chief executive at Audi in 2002 and then of the entire Volkswagen Group in 2007, assuming numerous other roles along the way. In stepping down, however, Winterkorn maintained his own innocence in the diesel emissions affair: "I am doing this in the interests of the company," he said at the time, "even though I am not aware of any wrongdoing on my part." Reached by Autoblog, Volkswagen of America spokesman Mark Gillies declined to comment on the emergence of the alleged correspondence.


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