WOLFSBURG - Volkswagen brand sales boss Hans-Ulrich Sachs has taken the blame for a sharp drop in VW sales in 2000.
Sachs, who joined the company just 10 months ago, was abruptly fired last month.
Sales of every mainstream VW car declined in Europe during the first four months of 2000. Lupo, Polo, Golf, Passat and Sharan are all running behind their 1999 levels.
VW brand sales in Europe are down 9.6 percent in the January through April period, according to ACEA, the European automakers' association. Market share fell to 10.8 percent from 12.1 percent in the same period last year.
Sachs, 47, will be replaced by Detlef Wittig, head of marketing at VW's Skoda unit in the Czech Republic. Seat's head of sales and marketing, Detlev Schmidt, will replace Wittig. VW gave no reason for the moves, but sources say Sachs was under pressure from VW Chairman Ferdinand Piech.
Sachs joined VW at a time when it was dramatically extending its model ranges.
Volkswagen group has been Europe's market leader for several years, but there is concern about the ability of its sales and marketing operations to cope with a rush of new models. Critics say that Piech's platform-sharing strategy puts VW brand under pressure from the group's lower-priced brands - Seat and Skoda.
Skoda sales in Europe are up 13.4 percent this year and Seat has improved 9.1 percent.
'The cars are far too much alike,' said a senior VW manager. 'It is a VW design problem. There is nothing wrong with offering the same technical platform, but you must separate the brands with different designs to get people to buy the more expensive cars.'
Sachs is the former chairman of Schwabengarage AG in Stuttgart, the world's largest Ford dealer group. He was a controversial figure during his short time at VW. Just three weeks after starting his new job last year, he publicly criticized his predecessor, Robert Buchelhofer, now VW's board member in charge of sales and marketing - and Sachs' boss.
Sachs blamed Buchelhofer for exaggerating sales forecasts, resulting in over-ambitious production plans.
In November, Sachs fired VW's German sales director, Peter Giffhorn, who was well-liked by dealers. Giffhorn was viewed as the company's bridge to dealers while the network went through a painful restructuring in recent years.
Sources say that Sachs, a career finance man, was never accepted by the VW dealers.
Company insiders say Sachs' fate may have been sealed by a disaster during a presentation to dealers at VW's Autostadt automotive theme park in Wolfsburg last month.
During a demonstration that was supposed to show how cars would be transported from the factory to the waiting customers, the cars became stuck in some glass storage towers, and failed to appear in the delivery areas.