While VW has risen to become the biggest automaker in China and
Europe, the group has yet to fully understand how to succeed in the
United States, Bernd Osterloh, VW's works council chief, told
reporters in Wolfsburg on Wednesday.
"The U.S. are a case of disaster" for VW, said Osterloh, who also
sits on the carmaker's supervisory board.
The German multi-brand group last month ousted U.S. divisional chief
Jonathan Browning, who oversaw the much-lauded 2011 launch of the
midsize Passat, sales of which declined 6.3 percent last year after
a 2011/12 surge.
Osterloh echoed criticism from the company's new head of U.S.
operations, Michael Horn, who this month said that VW headquarters
had paid little heed to the dynamics of the U.S. market.
VW's situation in the United States, where the company has been
grappling with losses for years, will not improve until 2016 and it
needs more models there, including a pickup truck, Osterloh said.
At the Detroit auto show last week, VW announced plans to make a
midsize sport utility vehicle (SUV) for North America as part of a
$7 billion investment in the region.
Osterloh lamented that a year after the "CrossBlue" SUV was
unveiled, it is still unclear where the model will be built. The
carmaker favors its U.S. plant in Chattanooga, Tennessee, over a
factory in Puebla, Mexico, a source familiar with the matter told
VW's labor leader said that Chattanooga would make sense from an
economic viewpoint if the company could offset the higher personnel
costs compared with Puebla.
NEW VEHICLE NOT LINKED TO UAW
Osterloh wants a German-style works council which represents both
assembly line workers and management to be put in place at
Chattanooga, the only wholly owned VW plant that does not have such
a group. In order to do so under U.S. labor law, a U.S.-based union
must represent plant workers, and VW has been in talks with the
United Auto Workers about filling that role.
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On Wednesday, Osterloh said a works council in league with the UAW
does not need to be in place for him to support a new vehicle for
production at Chattanooga.
"These issues must be treated separately, there's no connection
whatsoever," he told reporters.
This is contrary to some of Osterloh's comments last year, when he
said that having a works council at Chattanooga would help the
plant's chances of landing the midsize SUV production.
OK WITH MANAGEMENT CHANGES
Osterloh said that the carmaker would be able to cope with changes
to top management at any time. Five of the nine executives,
including CEO Martin Winterkorn, are older than 60.
"I believe we can react quickly if we're in need of (personnel)
changes," Osterloh said.
Speculation about a potential lack of a younger generation of
leaders at VW flared up last September when the carmaker denied a
report claiming that 76-year-old chairman Ferdinand Piech would soon
step down for health reasons and be replaced by 66-year-old
Osterloh said he is counting on both Piech and Winterkorn to serve
at least until 2018, the year VW has pledged to overtake Toyota
Motor Corp <7203.T> and General Motors Co <GM.N> as the world's
biggest carmaker by volume.
"I would be one of the first who would find out if one of those two
wants to go," said Osterloh, a member of the board's influential
(Additional reporting by Bernie Woodall
in Detroit; editing by Mark Potter, David Goodman and Matthew Lewis)
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