Volkswagen (VOW:GY) is replacing its U.S. chief after losing traction in the country’s red-hot car market. Jonathan Browning, who had steered VW’s American operations since 2010, will leave on Jan. 1 for “personal reasons,” the company said, while VW veteran Michael Horn takes his post.
It’s a pretty good time to be a car executive in the U.S. Thanks to cheap financing, an improving economy, and pent-up demand, dealerships are moving a lot of metal. Last month, U.S. consumers bought cars at the fastest pace in six years. Volkswagen’s sales, however, have dwindled during these boom times. As other foreign automakers stomped on the sales pedal, VW sold 20,440 fewer vehicles in North America this year through November.
Here’s a look at the numbers on a monthly basis. The sales skid for Volkswagen started in April and just got worse.
The problem is far deeper than sales strategy or C-suite execution. The Volkswagen line in the U.S. has simply been light on what Americans are buying in bulk: affordable SUVs and pickup trucks. Its moneymakers—the Jetta and Passat—are bumping up against a number of tuned-up new models, including the celebrated Ford (F) Fusion and the Mercedes (DAI:GR) CLA sedan, which starts selling at slightly less than $30,000.
Volkswagen executives in Germany, meanwhile, want to sell 800,000 cars in the U.S. by 2018—roughly double current levels. That goal is seeming more distant by the day, regardless of who is at the wheel.