BERLIN (Reuters) -- Volkswagen has picked ex-BMW manager Hinrich Woebcken to run the North American business of its core brand as the automaker faces growing criticism of its handling of the emissions scandal in the United States.
Woebcken's appointment aims to strengthen the VW brand's operational performance in North America, where it has been grappling with legal and image problems since it admitted last September to installing devices to cheat emissions tests in several diesel vehicle models.
Woebcken will oversee Michael Horn who remains head of VW Group of America, a position he has occupied since 2014. Horn is responsible for VW and the group's other brands in the United States, including Audi and ultraluxury marques Bentley, Lamborghini and Bugatti.
Woebcken, 55, ran global purchasing besides other positions in his 10 years at BMW. At VW he will head efforts to coordinate development, procurement, production and sales activities in the United States, Mexico and Canada, VW said in a statement on Tuesday. He will start his new post on April 1.
"The U.S. is and will remain a key market for the VW brand," said VW brand CEO Herbert Diess, also a former BMW executive. "That's why the North America region must be steered in the interest of our customers and dealers there," Diess said in the statement.
The VW brand has long struggled in the United States, where its failure to develop new models quickly and a lack of crossover vehicles have left it a niche player behind rivals such as General Motors, Hyundai and Toyota.
Four months after the diesel emissions scandal broke, there is no timetable for winning approval of a fix for about 500,000 affected U.S. cars, or for lifting the government's ban on the sale of 2016 VW diesel models.
The U.S. Justice Department this month sued Volkswagen for up to $48 billion for allegedly violating environmental laws.
Woebcken, an industrial engineer, last year quit Germany's Knorr-Bremse Group , a manufacturer of braking systems for rail and commercial vehicles, after about 15 months. Prior to his stint at BMW, he was managing director at industrial systems and automotive supplier Duerr.