Bram Schot was thrust into the role of CEO of Audi on an interim basis when his boss, Rupert Stadler, was jailed during an investigation into Stadler's role in Volkswagen AG's diesel emissions scandal. This happened just as the brand was preparing to launch its first battery-electric vehicle, the Audi e-tron. But the Dutch-born executive stepped up and got the e-tron moving. And he worked to clear a backlog of vehicles whose certification was delayed by the implementation of a new emissions and fuel-consumption testing procedure, WLTP, in Europe.
Schot's days as CEO are winding down. On Nov. 15, Volkswagen Group said that BMW executive Markus Duesmann, 50, will take the role April 1, and Schot will leave the company. Schot, 58, spoke to Automotive News Publisher Jason Stein, Automotive News Europe Associate Publisher Luca Ciferri and staff reporters Larry P. Vellequette and Christiaan Hetzner at the Frankfurt auto show in September. Here are edited excerpts.
Q: What's the single biggest challenge Audi and its dealers will face in 2020?
A: It's a combination of two things. It starts with the market — I think the market next year is a little bit more difficult. In China, I'm slightly optimistic on the premium market, but not super growth for the market in China. Europe looks stable, but the quality of the market is going down a little bit, so we see a lot of pressure. In the U.S., I would be happy to see a stable market, but everybody sees the U.S. as a promising market for the future. So if you want to grow, then it has to come from your own performance. That is, I think, one of the major issues. At the same time, you have to invest a lot. So we are investing in electrification.
We have stabilized markets, growth coming from performance, not from the market, then getting the right margin is a real issue.
We're doing well, because I'm less interested in volume and more interested in margin. That's why we're happy also to see the first good results on our transformation plan. So our [return] is around 8 percent; that looks much better than our competition.
So now, if you start making your company less dependent on volume and getting more out of lower costs and less pricing, then you can start growing your brand. And if then you get stabilizing markets, you get no performance out of growth, just performance. That then will be the challenge: finding the right balance between "Where do I put my money?" and "Where will I put my money to work?" Do I start investing more in the electrification? More in the plug-in [hybrids]? More in autonomous driving? More in the sharing? More in mobility? More on digitalization? And I think it will be a challenging year, especially on the pricing side.