Volkswagen dealers could tell things had changed just by listening to the presenters in their make meeting Saturday. For the first time in decades, there were no German accents.
Not that there was anything wrong with German accents coming from people talking about a German brand. It was just different this year, dealers told Automotive News, and different in a way that instilled trust in a new leadership team led by new Volkswagen of America CEO Scott Keogh.
"What [Keogh] did in that meeting was instill faith in the brand," said Matthew Welch, general manager of Auburn Volkswagen in suburban Seattle.
Another dealer, speaking anonymously after leaving the meeting, put it more succinctly: "Well, at least we know now who's in charge."
During the meeting, dealers heard Keogh take responsibility for logistical, marketing and product issues that have held back the brand as it struggled to exit the fallout from its 2015 diesel emissions crisis.
"We have these great products," Keogh said after the meeting. "Let's get them out of the factories and get them on the showroom floors, and get our logistics more professionalized. There are a lot of issues and opportunities on that front."
Keogh became CEO of Volkswagen Group of America on Nov. 1 after serving as president of Audi of America. John Luciano, chairman of the Volkswagen National Dealer Advisory Council, said Keogh's first make meeting was all about the brand taking responsibility and extending an invitation to its dealers to finally work together.
"Scott did a great job of getting the message out to them that, when our ship is correct and our backyard is ready for a barbecue, we'll have a barbecue. We've got to get things straight from both ends," said Luciano, general manager of Street Volkswagen of Amarillo in Texas. "There was no finger-pointing at the dealers. We have great dealers; now we just have to come together as a partnership. He won't be successful without a dealer body; the dealer body won't be successful without a manufacturer that gives us cars."