Volkswagen Loses Another Top Manager in Wake of Diesel Scandal

  • Vahland was tapped to lead Volkswagen's North America business
  • Former Skoda chief disagreed about the region's organization

Winfried Vahland at a briefing at the World Economic Forum in Beijing.

Photographer: Natalie Behring/Bloomberg

Volkswagen AG lost another senior manager in the wake of the diesel-emissions scandal as Winfried Vahland, who was tapped to restructure the carmaker’s struggling North America operations, quit unexpectedly.

The 25-year VW veteran, who had helped push the German carmaker’s business in China and successfully led the Skoda brand since 2010, turned down the job as chief executive for North America less than three weeks before he had agreed to start. Vahland decided not to take over the post on Nov. 1 as planned amid disagreements about the organization of the new region, Skoda said in an e-mailed statement.

“Vahland has had a number of key successes, in China and then at the Skoda brand,” said Stefan Bratzel, head of auto research at the University of Applied Sciences in Bergisch Gladbach, Germany. “His departure will hit Volkswagen hard.”

The North America job was a critical part of Volkswagen’s effort to recover from the crisis after U.S. regulators forced the company to admit to installing software to cheat on emissions tests in its diesel cars. Chief Executive Officer Matthias Mueller is seeking to give regional leaders more power and decision-making ability and break up the company’s rigid structure, which contributed to the plan to rig some 11 million diesel cars worldwide. 

Vahland, 58, was among the candidates to succeed former VW Chief Executive Officer Martin Winterkorn, who resigned last month amid the fallout from the scandal, but the supervisory board favored Mueller. Volkswagen spokesman Eric Felber declined to comment on whether the company still plans to fill the post.

No Diesel Link

Vahland is leaving the Wolfsburg, Germany-based manufacturer at his own request, and his departure isn’t linked to the diesel investigations, Skoda said in the statement. VW has suspended the chief developers for the VW, Audi and Porsche brands, people familiar with the matter have said.

After joining Volkswagen’s Audi unit in 1990 from General Motors, Vahland rose up the ranks. He was dispatched to Volkswagen’s China operations in 2005, when the carmaker’s joint ventures were feuding. He got the units to work together and proceeded to slash expenses, boost production and reduce the number of model platforms, boosting operating profit to 774 million euros in 2009.

At Skoda, he developed the brand into a key earnings driver, with an array of no-nonsense, practical cars like the Yeti sport utility vehicle and the Octavia wagon. Operating profit in the first half jumped 23 percent to 522 million euros. Its margin was 8.1 percent, compared with the VW brand’s 2.7 percent.

Volkswagen said Tuesday it will reduce annual investment by about 1 billion euros ($1.1 billion) at its namesake car brand as the automaker steps up a cost-cutting push to weather the impact of the scandal. The company set aside 6.5 billion euros for repairs and to compensate customers, but has said that won’t be enough. VW faces numerous lawsuits in the U.S., where it has lost money and struggled to become more than an also-ran despite rapid expansion elsewhere.

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