VW China boss to return to Europe in exec reshuffle

Paul McVeigh a special correspondent for Automotive News Europe
As Volkswagen group pursues its lofty aim of supplanting Toyota as the world's No. 1 automaker, CEO Martin Winterkorn is making significant changes among his top executive ranks.

Winterkorn is set to bring back to Europe former General Motors Europe manager Winfried Vahland after a successful five-year stint heading VW's China operations.

VW's electric drivetrains boss, Karl-Thomas Neumann, will replace Vahland in China later this year, according to German media reports.

Vahland, 53, will take charge of VW's Skoda brand when current CEO Reinhard Jung, 59, retires later this year.

Vahland, a graduate of the General Motors Institute in Michigan, worked for GM's Opel unit from 1984 until joining VW's Audi brand in 1990. He will be tasked with taking the Czech brand down-market where it won't steal sales from VW brand, according to Germany's Spiegel magazine, which said Winterkorn was furious recently when the new Skoda Superb sedan won a comparison test against VW's Passat in the influential German auto magazine Auto Bild.

Neumann, 48, the former CEO at supplier Continental who joined VW on December 1, is being sent to China to gain experience in the world's largest car market where VW group sales rose nearly 37 percent to a record 1.4 million units last year.

Both executives are touted as possible successors to Winterkorn, 62, who is due to retire in three or four years.

In another change, VW production chief Jochem Heizmann is being moved to VW's truck division. Heizmann, 58, a close associate of Winterkorn during the pair's Audi days, has won praise for implementing VW's new modular architecture but has angered VW's powerful IG Metall labor union because of his abrasive sytle in dealing with employees, reports Automobilwoche, Automotive News Europe's sister publication.