VWA CEO Horn Makes Exit

The automaker says the departure is the result of mutual agreement, though it seems likely there was friction over the game plan to rebuild the VW brand in the U.S. following slumping sales and a still-unresolved diesel-emissions scandal.

David Zoia Editor, Executive Director-Content

March 9, 2016

3 Min Read
Horn took over top spot at VWA in January 2014
Horn took over top spot at VWA in January 2014.

Volkswagen of America President and CEO Michael Horn is out after 26 months at the helm of the German automaker’s U.S. operations.

Replacing Horn on an interim basis is Hinrich J. Woebcken, recently named as the new head of North American Region and chairman of Volkswagen Group of America. A permanent replacement for Horn will be named at a later date.

In its statement, VWA says the departure is the result of mutual agreement, though it seems likely there was friction over the game plan between Horn and the newly appointed Woebcken, potentially connected with the company’s handling of the Dieselgate scandal and its need to regrow volume.

Woebcken’s position was created in September after the scandal broke and was designed to give Volkswagen’s North American team more autonomy, but it also added a new layer between Horn and Germany.

Woebcken is the second executive to be named to the post after Volkswagen’s first choice, a former executive with VW’s Czech subsidiary, decided to leave the company within days of his U.S. appointment last fall.

Horn has been the face of VWA since January 2014, and has led the company’s halting public-relations campaign over the diesel-emissions scandal in the U.S., where he testified before Congress on the matter in October. He has never been implicated in the scandal, testifying he had no knowledge of the cheating scheme prior to its public disclosure and apologizing to the government for the company.

Horn has been well liked by the media and appeared to have a solid relationship with VWA’s dealer body, which has been negatively impacted by the scandal that has seen sales of the automaker’s popular and brand-signature diesel-powered vehicles suspended.

“I want personally to say thank you to Michael Horn for the great work he has done for the brand and with the dealers in the United States,” Herbert Diess, CEO of the Volkswagen brand worldwide, says in a statement. “During his time in the U.S., Michael Horn built up a strong relationship with our national dealer body and showed exemplary leadership during difficult times for the brand.”

VW sales have been slumping for more than a year in the U.S. and are down 13.8% so far in 2016. Most of the falloff initially was the result of a lack of product, particularly in the key CUV sector, with the stop-sale on diesel models adding to the downward momentum.

In taking over the U.S. job, Horn was able to secure a sizable investment in North America from VW’s management board. That includes $900 million to build a new midsize CUV in Tennessee and additional investment for production of a next-generation Tiguan small CUV in Mexico. The two products are considered keys to turning around the brand’s fortunes in the region.

Horn, 54, joined VW in 1990 and held several positions before moving to the U.S., including head of sales for Europe.

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About the Author(s)

David Zoia Editor

Executive Director-Content

Dave writes about autonomous vehicles, electrification and other advanced technology and industry trends.

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