NEW ORLEANS -- Volkswagen of America, hoping to fix a fraying relationship with dealers, said at its make meeting that it will scale back several recent policy changes that had resulted in an outcry.
Among promised changes were an end to stair-step bonuses and more ways for dealers to satisfy a requirement that they offer loaner cars to customers.
Dealers said after the meeting that the changes will help them propel VW toward its goal of 800,000 U.S. sales by 2018, up from 407,704 last year.
"They took the handcuffs off," said Mike Sullivan, a VW dealer in Santa Monica, Calif. "They've made it so difficult over the last couple of years to do business, period, that the simplification of all that was a big deal. Now we have to see what it means."
Jimmy Ellis, an Atlanta dealer who has pushed for many of the changes as chairman of the national dealer council, said remarks by Michael Horn, the new CEO of Volkswagen Group of America, were a sign VW's top executives in Germany are committed to working with U.S. dealers.
"Why we're now seeing this renaissance of listening and change from VW management, I don't know," he said in an interview. "What I do know is this: I am very excited about the future."
One big complaint was the Variable Bonus Program. Executives said at the meeting that stair-step bonuses for meeting new-car sales targets will be phased out this year, though customer satisfaction bonuses will remain.
VW also said it plans to tweak its service loaner program. Some dealers said it required them to maintain a fleet of VW-brand loaners at too great a cost.
VW said last week it will retroactively pay dealers $500 for every car they put into loaner service. Dealers also will be given the option of reimbursing customers for rental cars or contracting with a rental car company.
Horn said in an interview that improving relationships with dealers is one of his two main priorities. The other is to prepare for VW's next big step toward the 800,000-unit sales target.
"We want to give more freedom, more leeway to the dealers," he said. "We looked at the competition -- let's face it. We looked at the American landscape, on what the bonus programs look like, what the margin structures look like. And you know, salespeople are changing brands. We need to be much simpler."