VW's new U.S. chief says changing mind-set at German HQ key for success

Horn: "We need to push more. Not here, but in Wolfsburg," VW's German base.
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DETROIT (Reuters) -- Michael Horn, the German executive tasked with reviving Volkswagen Group's fortunes in the United States, said the recipe for success in North America is to change the mind-set at the company's headquarters in Germany.

"We need to push more. Not here, but in Wolfsburg," Horn said, referring to the German city where Volkswagen is headquartered.

"It's about how to translate the American market in Wolfsburg. They need to listen to the market, the competitive situation," Horn told journalists at the Detroit auto show.

Getting headquarters to listen to U.S. demands depends in part on having a strong network inside the company, Horn said.

"There are formal organizations and there are informal organizations," said Horn, who has been with the automaker since September 1990, but was promoted to replace Jonathan Browning in the top U.S. post effective Jan. 1.

In a bid to improve lackluster sales of its namesake brand in the United States, VW confirmed on Monday that it will introduce a mid-sized SUV tailored for U.S. buyers in North America in 2016. The automaker also said it is sticking to its goal to boost the combined annual U.S. sales volume of its VW brand and the Audi premium marque to 1 million by 2018 and will invest $7 billion in the North American region over the next five years to help achieve this.

Volkswagen is also considering introducing a long-wheelbase version of its Tiguan compact SUV because U.S. customers want three rows of seats rather than only two, Horn said.

Unlike the Audi and Porsche nameplates, the mass-market VW brand failed to grow in the U.S. last year. Sales in the market fell 7 percent to 407,704 cars and SUVs, with demand plunging 23 percent in December. That's about half the 800,000 yearly vehicle sales targeted for the market by 2018.

Union representation

Horn said he was open to giving workers at its plant in Chattanooga, Tennessee, a vote about broader representation of worker rights by the United Auto Workers union.

"My view is democracy is a very important part of the American culture, I will accept what the workers eventually will decide to do," Horn said, declining to elaborate on whether Volkswagen would seek to offer a non-UAW alternative way to represent worker interests.

Automotive News Europe contributed to this report

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