Volkswagen forecasts car sales revival as it attempts to win over shareholders

Volkswagen predicted a further revival in retail car sales in September despite its business shrinking by more than a fifth in the first eight months of the year in the wake of the coronavirus crisis.

The German carmaker said it expected orders during the month to be above the level they were last year, and reiterated the goal was to remain profitable in 2020.

Herbert Diess, chief executive, said VW expected the “upward trend to continue for the remainder of the year”, but warned that current forecasts were volatile.

The world’s biggest carmaker also faced renewed shareholder criticism of its corporate structure at the delayed annual meeting on Wednesday.

Investors lambasted the lack of diversity on the company’s supervisory board and the continued fallout from the diesel emissions scandal, which has cost VW more than €32bn to date.

German asset manager DWS said it would not vote to approve the actions of the management board and would join institutional investors Deka and Union in refusing to ratify the supervisory board, which is led by former chief executive Hans Dieter Pötsch.

Hans Dieter Pötsch © EPA

Mr Pötsch also leads Porsche SE, the investment vehicle for the families that control 53.1 per cent of the voting shares in VW. Other members of the supervisory board include representatives of VW’s second-largest shareholder, the state of Lower Saxony, and unions.

“Weak corporate governance is the Achilles heel of the company,” Union’s Janne Werning told the Financial Times.

“The problem is that Pötsch is part of the old system,” he added. “There is not one single independent member of the supervisory board.”

Ingo Speich, a portfolio manager at Deka, said there was an obvious “governance discount” at VW, and investors undervalued the company due to its propensity for boardroom turmoil.

In recent months, Mr Diess was stripped of his leadership of the VW brand, the group lost its procurement chief and several executives were replaced at VW’s 12 marques, including Audi, MAN, Skoda and Seat.

Influential advisory firm Institutional Shareholder Services also recommended that investors vote against both boards, citing the ongoing “Dieselgate” proceedings.

“Considering . . . the fact that the emissions scandal continues to spread and both boards continue to not be transparent in their dealings, we believe they may be held responsible as board members for material failures of governance, stewardship, risk oversight, and fiduciary responsibilities at the company,” ISS said.

Separately on Wednesday, the trial of former Audi chief executive Rupert Stadler, who is accused of fraud, began in Munich. It is the first criminal trial relating to Dieselgate to go ahead in Germany, since the scandal was uncovered in September 2015.

At its meeting in Berlin, VW proposed a reduced dividend of €4.80 per ordinary share, down from the original €6.50.

Shareholders were also asked to vote on the appointment of EY as VW’s new auditors, despite the company’s role in the downfall of German fintech group Wirecard. On Tuesday, the FT revealed that an internal whistleblower had alerted EY to potential fraud at Wirecard four years before the company revealed a €1.9bn black hole in its balance sheet.

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