Volkswagen of America has parted ways with its chief marketing officer, Saad Chehab, nine months after hiring him.
In a brief statement announcing the separation today, Volkswagen said Chehab had left the company, effective immediately. The German brand named sales head Duncan Movassaghi to assume Chehab's duties on an interim basis.
Chehab's role had been confined to North America, and his departure was unrelated to a controversy this week over a Volkswagen ad with racial-discrimination overtones that ran in some European markets before being pulled.
Chehab, 53, a native of Lebanon who had previously been vice president, marketing communications for Kia Motors America from April 2017 to June 2019, joined VW in August, where he reported directly to Volkswagen of America CEO Scott Keogh. The two-time Automotive News All-Star — he won in 2011 and 2012 for his work with Chrysler and again in 2019 for the work he had done with Kia — had been tasked to reposition Volkswagen away from its 2015 diesel emissions scandal, to prepare the way for a coming lineup of EVs, and to boost sales consideration and market share.
In a recent interview with Automotive News, Keogh said that Volkswagen had been making inroads with consumers, roughly halving the percentage of those who rejected the brand outright because of its history of cheating on diesel emissions, and that its sales had been growing in a down market before the COVID-19 pandemic in the U.S. The brand plans to launch the first of its coming family of battery electric vehicles in the U.S. late this year with the ID4, a compact crossover.
Chehab, a graduate from the University of Detroit Mercy who left Lebanon for the United States as a teen, has a rich history of automotive marketing success, especially with struggling brands. He was widely credited as the creative force behind Chrysler's highly successful Super Bowl commercials "Born of Fire" in 2011 featuring Eminem and "Halftime in America" in 2012 featuring Clint Eastwood.
As head of the Chrysler brand, Chehab embraced the "Imported from Detroit" tag line from the "Born of Fire" commercial and used it to promote special editions of Chrysler vehicles. The phrase helped redefine the brand, repositioning it as a gritty domestic underdog, and helped grow sales.
He later worked for Maserati as its chief marketing officer, where he convinced the small premium brand to back another underdog-toned Super Bowl ad in 2014 — Maserati's first appearance in the big game — called "Now We Strike." He had worked at Ford before joining Chrysler.
Editor's note: This report has been edited to correct the number of times Chehab was named an Automotive News All Star.