Horn’s background pleases U.S. dealers such as Alan Brown, a VW dealer in Texas and a member of the brand’s U.S. dealer council.
Brown and his partners are investing $21 million to build a second VW dealership in Frisco, Texas, in the outer ring of the Dallas suburbs, where SUVs are a must-have product in showrooms.
He said he thinks Browning has done a commendable job as CEO, but having a German like Horn leading the organization could now help U.S. executives make a case for SUVs and other new products.
“Volkswagen AG has a hard time releasing the reins to Volkswagen in America. There’s no secret there,” Brown said. “I think that with Browning being replaced by a German colleague -- that might give us a stronger voice.”
Horn has a background developing products. Earlier in this career, he helped to launch the VW brand’s Phaeton luxury sedan and Touareg luxury SUV, the latter of which has become a mainstay of the VW lineup in the United States.
Browning has also struggled to quell dissatisfaction this year among VW dealers, whose profit margins have shrunk as sales have declined and the automaker has made more demands to improve customer satisfaction.
The VW brand also has not managed to use the full capacity of a $1 billion assembly plant that opened in Chattanooga in 2011. In April, after it became clear the Passat sedan was not selling well enough to use the plant’s full capacity of 180,000 cars per year, VW switched from three teams to two, laying off 500 contract workers.
Through November, Passat sales in the United States have fallen 2 percent to 100,398.
Browning and other U.S. executives have asked to upgrade the assembly line at the Chattanooga plant, boosting its capacity to about 250,000 units per year. That would make enough room to build a mid-sized SUV similar to the CrossBlue concept shown at the Detroit auto show earlier this year. It would provide VW with a competitor to larger SUVs like the Ford Explorer and Toyota Highlander.
VW has said it will make a decision by year’s end, but no decision has been announced. Dealers are tired of waiting.
“We need it right now,” Jimmy Ellis, who just added a third VW store in the Atlanta metropolitan area, and who chairs VW’s national dealer council, said in an interview this week before VW disclosed Browning’s departure. “We need it today. And any further delay is just delaying what we have to have to compete as a Tier 1 brand in the United States here.
“Volkswagen wants to be there. They expect to be there. They have the resources to be there. And without this vehicle, they’re not going to be.”