LOS ANGELES -- Volkswagen of America Inc.'s departing U.S. boss says the automaker is ready for a turnaround.
When Len Hunt took the reins of VW's U.S. operations in early 2004, the automaker had a large inventory. Its mass-market vehicles were at the end of their product cycles.
"We needed to stabilize the business because sales were plummeting," Hunt told Automotive News, still using the term "we" when referring to VW. Two weeks ago he was hired as COO of Kia Motors America Inc.
"We needed to clear the decks to launch the new Jetta and Passat. We set the blueprint so this sort of thing won't happen again," Hunt says.
While waiting for the redesigned vehicles to arrive, Hunt replaced VW's advertising agency and shuffled VW's field management and staff. He also bolstered dealership profitability by encouraging parts and accessory sales. For instance, dealership sales of tires went from negligible to $2 million a month.
"You have to farm your units in operation. Once you get a customer's tires off, that leads to wheel alignment, brake jobs and other service work," Hunt says.
VW's vehicle stock is down to less than 45 days supply, Hunt said. Although VW's U.S. sales through September are off 38.4 percent from the same period of 2002, both August and September sales improved over the comparable months in 2004.
"I feel we have bottomed out," Hunt says. "All indications are that we are pointing in the right direction."
Lessons Hunt learned at VW will be passed on to Kia.
"The Jetta is a great example of how to get a car over 100,000 units a year," Hunt says, referring to Kia's target of similar volumes for the compact Spectra.
Does he see any parallels between VW and Kia?
"Volkswagen is affordable German engineering. Kia is just affordable." Hunt said. "It's a totally different part of the market."
You may e-mail Mark Rechtin at