For Kia chief, dinner and a firing
VW's Hunt replaces Peter Butterfield
Butterfield's duties will be assumed by veteran Volkswagen of America Inc. executive Len Hunt.
According to several company insiders, Kia's Korean bosses had been miffed by Butterfield's tendency to clash with superiors and take the spotlight for Kia's U.S. success.
For a year, rumors have circulated that his job was in danger. The 52-year-old Butterfield had responded to media inquiries by defending his track record.
Efforts to reach Butterfield after his departure were unsuccessful.
Butterfield arrived in late 2001. Kia U.S. sales grew from 223,727 that year to 270,055 in 2004. In that time, Kia passed Mazda, Mercury, Mitsubishi, Saturn and Volkswagen. Kia sales are up another 6.2 percent this year through September.
Butterfield also had rolled out Kia's dealership program, plying dealers with a $300-per-vehicle incentive to build stand-alone showrooms. Since 2003, the number of exclusive Kia dealerships has risen from 8 percent to about 50 percent of some 650 stores.
Hunt will have an extra layer of oversight in Korean executive J.H. Lee, who was promoted to CEO from executive vice president. Hunt will be COO.
Kia has set a formidable growth target for its U.S. sales arm, projecting 300,000 sales in 2006 and 500,000 units by 2010. A redesigned Rio subcompact arrives this fall, and the redesigned Sedona minivan and Optima mid-sized sedan arrive early next year.
Hunt, 50, had seen a shake-up of his own career. He led the Audi brand in America from 1999 until 2004. For the past 18 months Hunt oversaw the struggling Volkswagen brand.
At VWoA, Hunt mentored the Moonraker market research project, designed to help VW executives in Germany understand American consumers. He also made it easier for consumers to receive warranty payments for engine sludge repairs.
Suffering from an aging product line, VW U.S. sales through nine months this year were 162,986, down 38.4 percent from the same period of 2002.
Last month, in a personnel shuffle Hunt, a Brit, was tapped to go to England oversee Bentley brand marketing worldwide, a position he originally accepted and then declined.
In a statement, Lee said, "Kia Motors is entering a new phase of aggressive growth, and we have realigned our management structure to better support this effort. We look forward to (Hunt's) leadership during this critical period of brand development in the U.S."
You may e-mail Mark Rechtin at [email protected]