After suffering a disastrous year in Korea that was brought on by the 2015 Dieselgate scandal, wary analysts are seeing a resurgence in the life of the Audi-Volkswagen juggernaut that for years had been front-runners along with BMW and Mercedes-Benz in the Korean imported-car market.
Most of the basic Audi and VW models whose sales in Korea were banned in July 2016 have completed recall requirements and are ready to return to market. Several new models have met emission tests and a new leadership team with considerable potential is heading the company.
Audi VW Korea announced Sept. 22 that Rene Koneberg, one of the most talented young marketing, brand, sales and administrative executives in Audi’s management ranks, has taken over as group managing director of Audi VW Korea.
He replaces Johannes Thammer, who ducked out of Korea in June a month before he was supposed to answer to criminal charges before the Korean courts for his role in the emissions-test-rigging scandal. Thammer reported he was sick and could not return to answer the charges and since has retired.
His replacement, Koneberg, has spent 17 years in key roles with Audi and has extensive experience in Asia.
Koneberg is working alongside his co-managing director, Marcus Hellmann.
Hellmann, an attorney, took his post in February. He handles legal affairs and regulatory compliance and played a significant role in getting most of the Audi VW Group vehicles ready for recertification so they can again be sold in Korea.
Before moving to his new post in Korea, Koneberg had served since April 2015 as managing director of Audi Hong Kong and Macau. Before that he served as director of brand operations for Audi China. In China he established Audi City Beijing, an advanced digital inner-city dealership that is the first of its kind in continental Asia.
He also founded the Audi R8 LMS Cup racing series in China, launched the Audi Trainer Academy and was instrumental in developing Audi’s High Performance Vehicle Segment in that market.
Before moving to China he served from 2007 to 2011 as Quattro sales director at Audi headquarters.
Koneberg was Director of Corporate and VIP Sales-Middle East from 2004 through 2007. In that post he provided sales management for seven key regional importers and established their dealership structure.
He also served for four years, beginning in 2000, as manager of European Sales and Distribution Strategy.
Both Audi and VW voluntarily stopped selling all vehicles in Korea beginning in July 2016 following decertification of 126,000 vehicles that were equipped with diesel-emissions cheating software.
However, in August Korean government agencies approved a recall plan for nine models equipped with the controversial EA189 diesel engines. The recall will cover 82,290 vehicles, including the VW Passat and Golf and the Audi A4, A5, A6 and other best-sellers in the Volkswagen Group’s portfolio.
The recalls of those vehicles launched Sept. 25, according to Audi VW Korea.
Volkswagen earlier received approval to recall 27,010 Tiguan CUVs and began fixing those models in February.
The automaker’s voluntary sales freeze on most models has played havoc with Audi and VW dealers over the past 15 months. Some have left the brand and are handling other vehicles.