VW picks ex-BMW manager to head brand in North America

Tue Jan 19, 2016 3:06pm EST
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By Andreas Cremer and Jan Schwartz

BERLIN (Reuters) - Volkswagen (VOWG_p.DE: Quote) has picked ex-BMW (BMWG.DE: Quote) manager Hinrich Woebcken to run the North American business of its core brand as the German carmaker faces growing criticism of its handling of the emissions scandal in the United States.

Woebcken's appointment aims to strengthen the VW brand's operational performance in North America, where it has been grappling with legal and image problems since it admitted last September to installing devices to cheat emissions tests in several diesel vehicle models.

Michael Horn remains head of VW Group of America, a position he has occupied since 2014, responsible for VW and the group's other brands in the United States, including Audi and ultra-luxury marques Bentley, Lamborghini and Bugatti.

Four months after the diesel emissions scandal broke, there is no timetable for winning approval of a fix for about 500,000 affected U.S. cars, or for lifting the government's ban on the sale of 2016 VW diesel models.

The U.S. Justice Department this month sued Volkswagen for up to $48 billion for allegedly violating environmental laws.

The Volkswagen brand has long struggled in the United States, where its failure to develop new models quickly and a lack of crossover vehicles have left it a niche player behind rivals such as General Motors (GM.N: Quote), Hyundai (005380.KS: Quote) and Toyota (7203.T: Quote).

The 55-year-old Woebcken, who in his 10 years at BMW ran global purchasing besides other positions, will head efforts to coordinate development, procurement, production and sales activities in the United States, Mexico and Canada, the carmaker said on Tuesday, confirming a Reuters story.

"The U.S. is and will remain a key market for the VW brand," VW brand CEO Herbert Diess said. "That's why the North America region must be steered in the interest of our customers and dealers there."   Continued...

A Volkswagen company logo sits atop the VW factory in Wolfsburg, Germany November 20, 2015. REUTERS/Ina Fassbender