Volkswagen AG's German executives readily admit they are a bit baffled by America, where, despite decades of exertion, Volkswagen's namesake VW brand still doesn't rank as a marquee marque.
So why would the automaker choose a German native and Wolfsburg veteran, Michael Horn, as the new CEO of Volkswagen Group of America, to succeed Jonathan Browning, 54, who is leaving at the end of the year?
To VW insiders and U.S. dealers, the choice makes perfect sense.
They say that if the U.S. division is led by a German CEO who understands Wolfsburg's culture and practices, it may have more luck than it did under Browning in communicating a plan to rebound from a VW-brand sales slide that now stands at eight straight months of losses.
The model is Browning's predecessor, Ste-fan Jacoby, who led Volkswagen Group of America from 2007 to 2010 before leaving to run Volvo Cars. As a German, Jacoby was able to speak frankly to his bosses about the U.S. unit's needs in a way that Browning, a Briton, never could, dealers and sources within the company say.
By the time Jacoby left, VW was in the process of building a $1 billion assembly plant in Chattanooga, with room to expand. It had redesigned the Jetta sedan to American tastes and was doing the same for the Passat sedan.
"We got the factory with help from Stefan Jacoby because he knew how Volkswagen AG works," says Wade Walker, president of Walker Motors, a VW-Mazda store in Vermont. "If you're from the United States and you make your way up to head of Volkswagen, you're not as familiar with the workings of the AG board."