Volkswagen's U.S. dealers appreciate the cash relief they're getting from headquarters. What they need now are answers.
As VW executives address hundreds of U.S. retailers at the brand's national dealer meeting this week in Orlando, they'll be under intense pressure to fill an information void that has left dealers with critical questions about VW's near-term response to the crisis and the brand's long-term prospects. Among them:
- When will VW be able to resume sales of new diesel-powered cars?
- How will it fix the 482,000 noncompliant U.S. diesel vehicles?
- How will affected owners be compensated?
- How will VW's cost-cutting efforts affect its product plans for the U.S. market?
- And how will the U.S. market's needs be served under a reorganized corporate structure aimed at diffusing more power to regions and brands?
That last issue only got cloudier last week after Winfried Vahland, the former Skoda chief tapped to head VW's newly formed North America region, abruptly quit the automaker before he could assume his new post.
Just two weeks earlier, Vahland's appointment appeared to bring some clarity to the role of the North America operation as a linchpin of VW's recovery strategy. A 25-year VW veteran with a record of successful brand-building, Vahland, 58, seemed like a natural fit for the North America role, which he helped conceive along with former VW CEO Martin Winterkorn before the crisis hit, a source told Automotive News Europe last week. He had led VW's Skoda brand to significant growth after taking over as CEO in 2010. Before that, he revived VW's ailing operations in China.
His decision to abandon the North America assignment -- over disagreements about the structure of the new unit, according to the company -- caught VW off guard and sent the company scrambling to find a replacement to lead a region where Volkswagen desperately needs a turnaround.