Michael Lovati is vice president, product line mid-/full-size, at Volks- wagen Group of Am- erica, but he’s really a translator.
The 39-year-old translates VW’s global products, designed in Germany, into vehicles that can sell, at a profit, in North America.
The Michigan native has spent most of his adult life either working in Germany or working for Germans in the U.S., helping them to succeed in North America.
“Right out of college, I started working with [German industrial robot maker] Kuka, and three months after I started, I went over to Germany for four years,” Lovati said. “I have a strong understanding of the German culture. I’ve basically made a career out of it. Aside from working with Germans every single day, it’s a strong personal interest of mine.”
Lovati joined VW in Germany in 2007 and is now one of several key players in the brand’s regionalization strategy, which calls for the company to operate in North America with a greater degree of autonomy than before, including manufacturing and sourcing locally.
For Lovati, a married father of three who works at the brand’s sprawling campus in Chattanooga, that means making sure that VW vehicles sold here are optimized for local customers in terms of their features and materials.
“Volkswagen AG is a huge global company and very much focused on spending a dollar once and maximizing it globally,” he said. But regional tastes and requirements differ, and as vehicles are developed, they often must be adjusted to local needs. “Sometimes that means adding features, other times it means subtracting them.”
Lovati said engineers in Germany don’t necessarily have North American driving conditions on their minds when they develop vehicles.
“The streets and conditions they drive in are much different in Germany than they are here,” he said. “On the Autobahn, customers are regularly driving 200 kph to up to 240 kph (125 to 150 mph), so the cars are engineered to do that, which adds cost. But here, with speed limits of 80 mph, that’s not a requirement, so we can save costs.”
He said certain material requirements that are specified can add cost.
“Many of the specs ... have been geared for materials readily available in Europe, but maybe not available here without importing them,” Lovati said.
“If we can make changes to allow for local sourcing of materials that are available in the market, that also saves costs and helps the business case here.”
-- Larry P. Vellequette