Why Vahland really threw in the towel (hint: Ingrid didn’t make him do it.)

Inge and Winfried Vahland with Karel Gott (center) in Prague

Inge and Winfried Vahland with Karel Gott (center) in Prague

In a surprise announcement, Volkswagen said yesterday that current Skoda CEO Winfried Vahland would leave the company. Surprising, because just two weeks ago, Vahland was officially appointed President and CEO of Volkswagen’s North American Region. Why did he throw in the towel? Was the reason really his wife, or the fact that Winterkorn is no longer in charge, as we are made to believe in a widely copypasted story? Our sources disagree.

“Vahland has told everybody who listened that he wouldn’t accept Diess, or anyone else than the CEO of the Volkswagen Group, as his boss,“ a person close to Vahland tells the Dailykanban. We hear that a surprised Vahland suddenly was confronted with the decision that he would report to Diess as chief of the Volkswagen brand, and that he would not get a seat on the Volkswagen Group board, similar to what China chief Jochem Heizman has as chief of Volkswagen’s China business. “Vahland was asked to step down as head of Skoda, and all in a sudden, he was more or less a lowly North America coordinator, and on top of it, he was asked to take on Group responsibilities while being in a brand position, something that would surely end in disaster” the source said. After considering all of the above, “Vahland did what he always said he would do under these circumstances: Take his hat and leave,” our contact at VW says.

Volkswagen said in an official statement that Vahland left over “differences of opinion over the company’s organization of its North American business.” It was a true statement, and the differences were huge.

Today, Automotive News wants us to believe that “Vahland quit because Martin Winterkorn was no longer the automaker’s CEO and because his wife didn’t want to move to the U.S.” Sorry, it looks like AN was led astray. The story is nonsensical.

Winterkorn stepped down on September 23. Vahland was appointed North America CEO nearly a week later, on November 29. Winterkorn was no longer CEO of VW when Vahland accepted the job. He also had ample time to discuss the posting with his wife Ingrid Vahland before the announcement went out. Ingrid had followed the husband to Brazil, China, and finally to dreary Mlada Boleslav, bigger hardship posts than Herndon, Virginia. Apparently, in the course of the re-org to be laid-out today to top managers, Vahland was told that he would work for Diess, and not for Mueller as he was promised before. No seat on the Group board. Vahland: “Ich gehe.“ On top of it: Who wants to preside over a minefield?

The red herring that was hooked by Automotive News most likely is a story originating at a Volkswagen PR department that tries to lead away from unrest in the leadership in a time where VW can’t use any more additional stress.  With Vahland, Volkswagen loses one of its most capable managers, a man who deserves VW’s gratitude for what he had done for the company in China and at Skoda. Good on Vahland that he had the backbone to go when promises made were not kept.