VW’s North America biz could be run from China

Heizmann: A man for China AND North-America?

Heizmann: A man for China AND North America?

Volkswagen apparently has a bit of a problem finding a leader for its North American business. The gentle  reader will remember that Winfried Vahland, the man who was picked for the job, threw in the towel before he could get started. To this day, the slot remains unfilled. Now we hear that the North American Region could be headed by a manager in China.

Explosive dispatches are transmitted by Volkswagen’s hallway radio. Volkswagen’s high-level rumor mill says that Volkswagen CEO Matthias Mueller thinks of giving the North America job to his China chief Jochem Heizmann – on a part-time basis. According to the hallway radio, Heizmann would keep his China job and his office in Beijing’s Sanlitun – if the plan is approved. On top of running Volkswagen’s vast China business, Heizmann would oversee Mexico, the U.S.A. and Canada. This until a more suitable candidate is found. Chinese and American car tastes are related (three-box cars, lots of SUVs), and with the combined power of the world’s largest and second-largest car market behind him, Heizmann could possibly convince Wolfsburg to make the cars his markets demand.

This is where the Sino/American similarities end. Mused a VW manager thinking of Heizmann juggling China and North America:

“It’ll be tough: Different laws, different political systems, different media, different customer preferences. One plant in the U.S. compared to 17 in China. 3 percent market share in the U.S. vs market leader in China. He would have to reboot his brain many times a month.”

If true, and if the plan comes to pass, it would solve a big problem at the top of Volkswagen’s leadership, namely the row over a Volkswagen Group board seat. Vahland left in a huff, we heard in a previous hallway radio show.  Vahland did quit not because his wife made him do it, as the media was led to believe, but because he wasn’t given the power that job needs. According to that hallway radio-transmission, Vahland wanted a seat on the Volkswagen Group board, and not a job two levels down, reporting to Volkswagen brand chief Diess. “China has a group board level seat, North America deserves the same,” Vahland was quoted by people close to him.

Apparently, the idea of a NA board seat did not get traction in Wolfsburg, also because it clashes with a planned, but not yet announced re-org that sees the board to be largely comprised of the brand chiefs (or rather brand group chiefs, Bentley and Bugatti, Lamborghini and Ducati will be subsumed under two groups with one member each on the board.) Board members representing regions would disturb the logical beauty of this plan, and for a while, even Heizmann’s board seat representing the China business was on the endangered species list. Meanwhile, Volkswagen decided that it has more pressing problems that the symmetry of an orgchart.

A few days ago, the hallway radio saw BMW’s Peter Schwarzenbauer in the North American role, “but only if he gets a Volkswagen Group board seat.“ Bavarian Schwarzenbauer currently is a member of BMW’s board of management. No board seat at VW, no Schwarzenbauer, and the NA slot remained vacant.

Adding North America to Heizmann’s portfolio – even if it is only on an interim basis –  would take the pressure off. It also would solve the board seat imbroglio very elegantly. Heizmann already sits on the board, no need to upset the orgcharts. A cursory look at Heizmann’s CV makes you believe he is one of the few untainted by dieselgate.

Standard disclaimer: No responsibility is taken for the correctness of this information. Hallway radio reports reflect the current buzz of Volkswagen’s internal rumor mill, and as such the reports are not always correct. However, the radio has a very high batting average, and it definitely delivers better stories than Volkswagen’s paralyzed PR dept.