NEW ORLEANS -- Michael Horn is new enough to his U.S. assignment that he's still looking for a permanent home in suburban Washington for his family.
But Volkswagen Group of America's new CEO hasn't had a moment to waste getting his corporate house in order.
Horn, who headed VW's global aftersales business in Germany before his appointment in December, met with VW dealers here Jan. 26 hoping to quell a near-revolt over stair-step bonuses, shrinking profits and complex commands from the factory. Judging by dealers' reactions to his promises, he seems to have succeeded.
"A lot of the issues that we struggled with for the last couple years have been addressed," says Jimmy Ellis, a longtime VW dealer from Atlanta who has called for many policy changes as chairman of the brand's U.S. dealer council. "And I'm confident that as we work over the next few months, those will now be put to bed."
The changes will cost VW some money, but they could buy Horn's team the time it needs to execute a major shift in the brand's U.S. marketing tactics and prepare for an expansion of the product lineup starting in 2016.
"There are basically two key priorities," Horn told Automotive News. "One is the dealer relations. And the other is to get the product ramp-up to get to the next step. We've done step one. We've achieved this 400,000 [unit] plateau and we'll defend this. But we need the next big step."
VW executives have spent the past half decade marching toward the "Mach 18" goals set by Volkswagen AG CEO Martin Winterkorn, which include selling 800,000 VW brand vehicles in the United States annually by 2018. The brand took its first big step in the United States from 2010 to 2012, when it introduced the Jetta compact sedan, Passat mid-sized sedan and Beetle coupe in rapid succession. U.S. sales doubled in three years.
Last year, a lull in launches caused sales to fall 7 percent to 407,704 units. Dealers and executives hope Horn's background in Wolfsburg will enable him to secure new products that will allow VW to regain its momentum and compete with America's largest brands.
"They clearly want us from the U.S. to have a consistent loud voice in Germany, to get our market demands done," Horn said. "That's my job description."