TOKYO - A soft-spoken Brit who doesn't speak German is leading Volkswagen Group Japan K.K. to new heights.
In November, Peter Nochar was promoted to president from his previous post as executive vice president.
The timing, he says, coincided with a board meeting that had been delayed because of the Tokyo Motor Show. But it also followed an October when VW posted its best market share ever: 25.8 percent of all imports sold in Japan.
He predicted a similar share in November and December. VW Japan is heading for sales growth of 10 percent in 1999 amid a flat import market, and record year in 2000 when the New Beetle will be available for a full year, he said.
The New Beetle's popularity deserves credit for much of VW's success in Japan. Even with sales at 3,000 a month, well above the targeted 2,000, VW Japan has back orders for 4,000 New Beetles. But careful planning by Nochar, who previously worked for BMW Japan, helped.
He recognized that plans to launch the New Beetle and the Bora within one week of each other could lead to one car being cast in the other's shadow. So he began the Beetle's prelaunch marketing in April, sending a caravan of 25 New Beetles from the United States across Japan to build interest.
VW Japan took orders for 1,000 Beetles on the Sept. 20 launch date, yet still managed a successful launch Sept. 27 of the Bora.
'We used the prelaunch to separate the two,' he said.
That same planning showed at the VW stand at the Tokyo Motor Show. Nochar talked his German bosses into approving a stand composed entirely of vehicles in silver, because 70 percent of VW's buyers in Japan choose silver.
He also arranged, for the first time, to entirely staff the stand with European women models, all of whom spoke Japanese. Recruiting and auditioning of the models began a year in advance.
'We were subtly saying, `We're foreign, but we fit in.' '