DETROIT -- A nasty case of bronchitis wasn't going to stop Michael Horn from trying to make a strong first impression.
On the eve of the Detroit auto show last week, a large delegation of Volkswagen AG board members and executives had gathered for a company reception at a downtown restaurant. They expected Horn, who until recently was their colleague in Wolfsburg, to make his first appearance as CEO of the company's U.S. division -- and thus become the new face of the Volkswagen brand in America.
Horn had a hacking cough, but he suppressed it enough to introduce Volkswagen AG CEO Martin Winterkorn on stage and speak to the assembled board members.
"My boss is very demanding, and we have a difficult year ahead of us," Horn said. "A challenging year, you would say in the United States. But I have only one mode, and this is to go forward -- or, as you would say, to go on offense."
Horn's offensive already has begun. And it is not just about winning over the U.S. market, where Volkswagen wants to be a major player on a par with Toyota or Honda, and has set a goal of selling 800,000 VW-brand vehicles annually by 2018.
Horn, who had been head of Volkswagen AG's global aftersales operations, also is going on offense in Volkswagen's hometown of Wolfsburg. He is pushing his German bosses to launch products designed specifically for the American market, starting with a U.S.-focused version of the German-made Tiguan compact crossover. The current Tiguan is less popular with American customers than rivals such as the Honda CR-V and Toyota RAV4.