BERLIN — Volkswagen brand's grand plan to revamp its dealer relationships around the world to gain more direct digital access to consumers is largely complete in Europe and about to get started in South America.
But when formal discussions with U.S. dealers begin in 2019, they'll be much different from talks in the rest of the world, Volkswagen of America officials insist.
Negotiations in the U.S., which will be led by Werner Eichhorn, head of sales for VW's North American region, are expected to focus not only on new digital revenue streams, but on improving the lagging profitability of U.S. dealerships.
At an event here last month, Jürgen Stackmann, Volkswagen brand board member responsible for sales, told Automotive News Europe that the global talks are aimed at giving the automaker better access to consumers — allowing VW, its dealers and other third parties to market to them digitally through a single unified platform similar to Apple's iTunes or App Store that can be accessed from a connected device, whether the car or a smartphone. The goal, in part, is to create new revenue streams for dealers to replace those lost from service operations as VW prepares stock its lineup with electric vehicles.
Last month, delegates representing some 3,500 VW sales points across Europe agreed in principle to renegotiate their contracts effective April 2020, which coincides with the new I.D. family of fully electric and digitally connected vehicles. Stackmann expects virtually all to sign off by the Nov. 30 deadline.
Company officials declined to provide details about the amended agreements in Europe, since the roughly 400-page set of agreements has only just been sent and not yet seen by VW's retailers.
However, a source told Automotive News Europe that the new pacts include fewer manufacturer requirements on such things as the minimum number of training hours required for sales managers. They also have provisions for shared access to customer data and a new, separate contract governing how the automaker and the dealer will work together to offer digital services, the source said.
Volkswagen says it wants to use much of that European model globally.
"We will have to reach agreement on the business model with the regions regardless of where they might be, since a seamless customer journey logically can only exist when we work differently" from the past, Stackmann said. "Whether we have to renegotiate contracts, we will have to see, but we have to start talks with our retailers worldwide, and we're using Europe as a blueprint."