Hemanth Kappanna, whose research helped expose Volkswagens conspiracy to lie about its diesel cars emissions, has been sacked by General Motors (GM) — his current employer with a one-way ticket to India.
According to the New York Times, Kappanna was one of about 4,000 GM workers laid off in what the company called a “strategic transformation.”
“They let me go,” The New York Times quoted Kappanna as saying.
Unable to find a job before his work visa’s 60-day grace period expired, Kappanna returned to Bangalore, his hometown, a few days later.
“In 2013, he was part of a small team of engineering students in West Virginia whose research helped expose Volkswagen’s decade long conspiracy to lie about its diesel cars’ emissions”, The New York Times reported.
The German carmaker, reportedly, has paid $23 billion so far to resolve criminal charges and lawsuits in the United States, and $33 billion overall. However, Kappanna’s role in bringing out the scandal did not protect him when his supervisor called him into a conference room in Milford, Michigan, this past winter.
Kappanna joined GM in December 2014 after finishing his doctorate. His most recent job involved communicating with the Environmental Protection Agency about the carmaker’s emissions technology.
Kappanna was a graduate student when he got involved in a “Mad Max” sort of experiment on Volkswagens.
Kappanna and two other graduate students, Marc Besch from Switzerland and Arvind Thiruvengadam from India, were chosen to do the fieldwork. They bolted portable emissions-testing equipment to a sheet of plywood and crammed it into the back of a Volkswagen diesel station wagon.
While studying at West Virginia University, the “director of his programme asked him to complete a grant application from the International Council on Clean Transportation”.
The council wanted to test the emissions of German diesel cars sold in America.
Kappanna’s proposal helped the university win a modest $70,000 grant.
Kappanna, with two other graduate students – Marc Besch from Switzerland and Arvind Thiruvengadam from India – performed the research into Volkswagen diesel cars.
Based on their research, the US regulators began an investigation and “forced Volkswagen to confess that it had installed the cheating software in 11 million diesel cars worldwide, including almost 600,000 in the US”.
Their paper did not directly accuse Volkswagen of wrongdoing. But the data it included raised red flags for officials with the California Air Resources Board and the EPA who were in the audience.
Today, two former Volkswagen executives are serving prison terms in the United States for their roles in trying to cover up the emissions fraud. Martin Winterkorn, Volkswagen’s former chief executive, faces criminal charges in the United States and Germany for his alleged role in the scheme. He has denied wrongdoing.
Ironically, Kappanna’s most recent position at GM involved complying with tougher disclosure requirements that the EPA imposed on carmakers after the Volkswagen scandal.
Whatever the reason, Kappanna and other GM workers arrived at work in Milford on Feb. 4 to find notices taped to conference room doors: The rooms had been reserved for human resources meetings. Kappanna soon received a phone call from the director of his division to meet him in one of the rooms.
“I felt it even before I stepped into the room,” Kappanna said about the loss of his job.