Volkswagen's labor chief says U.S. operations a 'disaster'

WOLFSBURG, Germany Wed Jan 22, 2014 10:43am EST

The Volkswagen logo is displayed on a 2014 Beetle TDI during the North American International Auto Show in Detroit, Michigan January 15, 2014. REUTERS/Joshua Lott

The Volkswagen logo is displayed on a 2014 Beetle TDI during the North American International Auto Show in Detroit, Michigan January 15, 2014.

Credit: Reuters/Joshua Lott

WOLFSBURG, Germany (Reuters) - Volkswagen's (VOWG_p.DE) top labor representative has dubbed the carmaker's U.S. operations a "disaster" and called for more models and swift decisions to revive the German group's declining fortunes in the world's second-largest auto market.

While VW has risen to become the biggest automaker in China and Europe, the group has yet to fully understood how to succeed in the United States, Bernd Osterloh, VW's works council chief, told reporters in Wolfsburg on Wednesday.

"The U.S. are a case of disaster" for VW, said Osterloh, who also sits on the carmaker's supervisory board.

The German multi-brand group last month ousted U.S. divisional chief Jonathan Browning, who oversaw the much-lauded 2011 launch of the midsize Passat, sales of which declined 6.3 percent last year after a 2011/12 surge.

Osterloh echoed criticism from the company's new head of U.S. operations, Michael Horn, who this month said that VW headquarters had paid little heed to the dynamics of the U.S. market.

VW's situation in the United States, where the company has been grappling with losses for years, won't improve until 2016 and it needs more models there, including a pick-up truck, Osterloh said.

At the Detroit auto show in January VW announced plans to make a sport utility vehicle (SUV) for North America as part of a $7 billion investment in the region.

Osterloh lamented that a year after the "CrossBlue" SUV was unveiled, it's still unclear where the model will be built. The carmaker favors its U.S. plant in Chattanooga, Tennessee, over a factory in Puebla, Mexico, a source familiar with the matter told Reuters.

VW's labor leader said that Chattanooga would make sense from an economic viewpoint if the company could offset the higher personnel costs compared with Puebla.

Separately, Osterloh said that the carmaker would be able to cope with changes to top management at any time. Five of the nine executives, including CEO Martin Winterkorn, are older than 60.

"I believe we can react quickly if we're in need of (personnel) changes," Osterloh said.

Speculation about a potential lack of a younger generation of leaders at VW flared up last September when the carmaker denied a report claiming that 76-year-old chairman Ferdinand Piech would soon step down for health reasons and be replaced by 66-year-old Winterkorn.

Osterloh said he is counting on both Piech and Winterkorn to serve through at least until 2018, the year VW has pledged to overtake Toyota (7203.T) and General Motors (GM.N) as the world's biggest carmaker by volume.

"I would be one of the first who would find out if one of those two wants to go," said Osterloh, a member of the board's influential steering committee.

(Reporting by Andreas Cremer and Jan Schwartz; Editing by Mark Potter and David Goodman)

We welcome comments that advance the story through relevant opinion, anecdotes, links and data. If you see a comment that you believe is irrelevant or inappropriate, you can flag it to our editors by using the report abuse links. Views expressed in the comments do not represent those of Reuters. For more information on our comment policy, see
Comments (13)
3x VW owner and I concurr that US VW management is out of touch. They had a winner with the Jetta (most welcome by women BTW) but they rested on their laurals.

If US VW doesn’t want to do something (import the Scirocco?, sell a truck, retain crank windows), they don’t. It is an uphill battle for customers and VW Germany.

Example: Web site “contact us” is only for customer problem reporting against dealers, so any ideas or suggestions seem to be unwelcome via this avenue. I believe.

Probably too complicated to get the 60 YOs to retire and get young blood/fresh views into power positions, plus a fear that change may not achieve what WE want/need for VW to be the shinning star Germany wants.
Pitiful tangent; 15 million dollar class-action settlement was balony which I think I could have halved. But the lawyers did.

Be careful when citing VW-the-car-maker, for corporate Germany and corporate US (selling/controlling) are NOT the same thing, and wonder why Germany’s “US operations” is having a hard time.

Better suggestions can be offered but it would require airing dirty laundry, something which would not be favorable in the press.
I want better, as does Osterloh, but ….

Jan 22, 2014 9:18pm EST  --  Report as abuse
SanPa wrote:
Cheap Chinese tyres on a German-engineered car … not a strong selling point. And Americans do not seem to understand Spartan, functionality.

Jan 23, 2014 1:38am EST  --  Report as abuse
FC_sonic wrote:
Volkswagen’s time has come and gone in the U.S. market. Would you really want to drive a Pass-it?

Jan 23, 2014 2:10am EST  --  Report as abuse
This discussion is now closed. We welcome comments on our articles for a limited period after their publication.