WASHINGTON -- Volkswagen’s national dealer council and other dealers are publicly opposing the VW supervisory board’s reported plans to dismiss Volkswagen of America CEO Michael Horn.
“Recent reports that his position may be in jeopardy over this situation made it imperative that the dealer body express our unconditional support for Michael Horn,” Volkswagen’s 12-member National Dealer Advisory Council said in a statement to Automotive News delivered by the group’s chairman, Alan Brown, general manager of two large VW dealerships in suburban Dallas.
“Unless there is evidence being withheld from us showing some form of direct complicity or creation of this issue we must state that if he is removed as the CEO it would be nothing short of catastrophic to our market and our relationship.”
Horn, a 25-year VW veteran, has won the support of Brown and many other VW dealers since he assumed the top job for the Volkswagen brand and group in the U.S. in January 2014. Viewed as a savvy leader who can navigate the inner workings of VW’s Wolfsburg, Germany, headquarters, Horn helped secure additional autonomy for VW’s operation in the U.S. and overhauled past dealer policies that many dealers say were unrealistic and damaged profitability.
Reuters reported earlier today that the supervisory board intended to dismiss Horn and other senior VW group executives at the board’s Friday meeting the wake of its diesel emissions scandal that has gripped the automaker and prompted the resignation of CEO Martin Winterkorn.
“When we heard that, the first thing that we thought was ‘no way.’ Michael Horn is the leader who can get us through this right now,” said Matt Welch, general manager of Auburn Volkswagen, near Seattle. “What we don’t need is a new CEO coming in riding a white horse. What we need is stability at the top who can lead us through it.”
He killed the aggressive stair-step policies in place prior to his arrival that dealers broadly said set monthly dealership sales targets to unrealistic levels, sometimes double a given store’s historical monthly average. Horn in turn toned down the targets and created new policies that rewarded customer satisfaction in addition to volume, dealers say.
Horn also won dealer support by successfully lobbying for key product decisions for the U.S. market.
Horn helped convince VW to shorten the life cycle of its U.S.-market vehicles, starting with the redesigned Jetta in 2017, which will be redesigned every five years instead of every seven. He also lobbied aggressively to bring the Volkswagen Golf Sportwagen Alltrack to the U.S. in 2016 to be VW’s Subaru fighter.
“Michael Horn has tirelessly fought for the North American market to correct the many missteps of prior management that has led to the recent decline in market share," the council statement said.
"His ability to secure the right product for our future and the right product cycle have reinvigorated the dealer body in the knowledge that we will not be left behind as Volkswagen forged into the future globally. Not only did he repair the flaws in the business model of North America, he repaired in a short time what most felt was impossible: trust between the dealers and Volkswagen."