Editor's note: Hendrik Muth is senior vice president for product marketing and strategy, Volkswagen brand, Volkswagen Group of America. His title was misstated in an earlier version of this story.
Hendrik Muth has a secret weapon as he works to make Volkswagen’s vehicles a better fit for American consumers: his own family.
Muth, a Germany native, is Volkswagen Group of America’s senior vice president for marketing and strategy for the Volkswagen brand. He has an American wife from Philadelphia and two daughters, ages 14 and 10, and they are his focus group.
“For me, it’s another source of feedback for the U.S. market,” Muth said. “For example, my daughters love the ambient lighting in the Atlas. And this is our next generation of customers, future Generation Z.”
Muth, who has been with Volkswagen since 2006, came to the U.S. in 2012, where his first assignment was to build up the brand’s R-Line, a sporty optional appearance package available across the lineup. He also focused on the brand’s accessories business. Sales of accessories for Volkswagen lagged in North America compared with other parts of the globe, Muth said.
“This is a very different market,” he said. “Our German-engineered system doesn’t always work one-to-one here. We needed to have our own strategy and listen to our own local customers and dealers. They’re one of the best resources for knowing what’s needed in the North American market.”
Muth said the accessories effort began with typical high-demand items such as rubber floor mats and cargo liners.
“Then we moved on to make locally sourced first aid and roadside kits,” he said.
“We put a great kit together locally for a very competitive price, with much more value than the German equivalent set.”
As a result, the American kits are now being exported to other markets.
For native Germans such as Muth, moving to the U.S. can be a culture shock — at least in automotive terms.
“In Germany, VW is known by everybody,” he said. “It’s kind of a premium brand, but the U.S. market and the customer demands here are very different.”
To expand and become a full-line vehicle manufacturer in North America, Muth said, VW must consider doing things differently. One example is the need to freshen vehicles more frequently. As part of its regionalization overhaul, VW is shortening its product cycles from as many as eight years to five and is putting in more continuous product updates.
Muth said, “Together with our colleagues in Germany, we will develop that higher plan and strategy for the North American region.”
-- Larry P. Vellequette