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WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Volkswagen AG (VOWG_p.DE) said on Friday it was tapping Hinrich J. Woebcken, who just took over on April 1 as the head of its new North American region, to serve as president and chief executive of Volkswagen Group of America.
In March, VW said its top U.S. executive, Michael Horn, was stepping down immediately nearly six months after the German automaker admitted to installing software to allow 580,000 U.S. diesel vehicles to emit excess emissions.
Woebcken, a former BMW executive who ran global purchasing among other jobs, started working at VW in March when he was named on a temporary basis to fill Horn's job. Woebcken's appointment as the head of VW's North American region was announced in January, but it did not be come effective until April 1.
Volkswagen remains in talks with U.S. regulators in an effort to reach a settlement in the diesel emissions scandal ahead of an April 21 court deadline.
Herbert Diess, CEO of the Volkswagen Passenger Brand, told employees Friday about the company's strategy for its newly established Volkswagen North American Region.
"The establishment of the North American Region provides the U.S., Mexico and Canada more freedom and more responsibility than ever before," Diess said in a statement.
Volkswagen said the new region will help it react better to customer and market demands. Diess told employees the company is committed to bringing new SUVs to market to appeal to U.S. consumers. The company's VW brand reported U.S. sales fell 5 percent in 2015 and are down 12 percent so far this year.
”With the new structure of the North American Region we will be empowered to make the decisions to bring the vehicles that the consumers in the market are demanding," Woebcken said in a statement.
In March, U.S. District Judge Charles Breyer in San Francisco told VW and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency that they would have until April 21 "to announce a concrete proposal for getting the polluting vehicles off the road."
Last week, EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy said it was not clear if both sides would reach a deal by April 21, saying there were "really robust" ongoing talks.
The cars are equipped with "defeat devices" that allow them to pass laboratory emissions tests despite exceeding federal standards by up to 40 times when they are driven on roads.
The U.S. Justice Department in February sued VW for up to $46 billion for violating U.S. environmental laws. VW and its Audi and Porsche brands remain barred from selling any new 2016 diesel models in the United States.
Editing by Leslie Adler