Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Volkswagen names ex-GM executive Jonathan Browning as U.S. chief

On Monday, Volkswagen AG, Europe's largest carmaker, named Jonathan Browning to head its U.S. operations and oversee completion of the Chattanooga assembly plant.
The choice of Browning, a former General Motors executive who joined VW in June, ends a nearly three-month leadership vacuum for the company in America.

Browning will take over as president and CEO of Volkswagen Group of America starting Oct. 1. Predecessor Stefan Jacoby last month became CEO of Volvo Cars, the Swedish automaker that's now owned by China's Zhejiang Geely Holding Group Co.

VW hired Browning, 51, this year to improve coordination of the carmaker's international sales companies.

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He was previously vice president of global sales, service and marketing at GM. His appointment coincides with the final phase of the introduction of a new Jetta compact, VW's best-selling American model. VW also is preparing to open its new factory in Chattanooga and present its first car built exclusively for the U.S. market.

"The major part of his career was outside the U.S.," said analyst Christoph Stuermer, of IHS Automotive in Frankfurt, Germany. "Just because he worked for GM doesn't mean he understands the U.S. dealer mentality. I'm curious to see what he comes up with."

Browning worked for GM from 1981 to 1997 and returned there in 2001 after a stint at Ford Motor Co., where he left as managing director of the Jaguar brand.

High hopes for Chattanooga plant

Volkswagen is heading for an eighth annual loss in the U.S. Reviving revenue and profit here is essential to CEO Martin Winterkorn's goal of surpassing Toyota Motor Corp. in size and profitability by 2018.

He also wants to almost triple VW's share of the U.S. market to 6 percent by 2018 and boost deliveries to 1 million, including 200,000 cars at the Audi luxury unit.

The carmaker's $1 billion plant in Chattanooga is scheduled to start production in the third quarter of 2011, with a goal of lifting sales by designing more models for the U.S.

Next month, VW will start selling a new Jetta — VW's first model altered specifically for the U.S. market.

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