VW has a new US CEO, but still no plan for its offending diesels

Hinrich Woebcken, Volkswagen Group of America CEO
Over six months into its ongoing diesel crisis, Volkswagen continues to reshuffle its management without making any apparent progress on recalling nearly 600,000 diesel cars in the U.S.

The company announced Friday that Hinrich Woebcken will assume the role of CEO of Volkswagen Group of America, which was vacated by Michael Horn last month. Woebcken was named head of the Volkswagen Brand in North America in January, and will maintain that title in addition to the CEO position, which he has held on an interim basis since Horn stepped down on March 9.

Woebcken’s appointment comes as Volkswagen consolidates all of its activities in the U.S., Canada, and Mexico into a new “North American Region.” This involves setting up a new management structure that will oversee all activities related to the Volkswagen car brand (other brands owned by VW have separate regional management), including “sales and marketing, product development, procurement and production,” a Volkswagen statement said.

VW claims this will help streamline decision making and help its North American brand operate with a greater degree of autonomy. The company has always had trouble understanding the U.S. market, a point not lost on its disgruntled dealers, who considered outgoing CEO Horn their champion. The current-generation Passat was supposed to lead an all-out assault on the U.S. market when it launched in 2012, but that plan lost momentum and is now at a standstill, thanks to the diesel scandal.

The restructuring may help Volkswagen’s U.S. strategy in the long term, but it likely won’t do much to change the company’s unfortunate current situation. VW has until April 21 to get regulatory approval for a diesel recall plan, and EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy has already expressed skepticism about its ability to meet that deadline.

Depending on the model, a recall could involve anything from software updates to the addition of extra hardware to scrub pollutants from engine exhaust. Volkswagen submitted a plan for 482,000 cars with 2.0-liter four-cylinder engines to regulators at the end of last year, but that was rejected. A separate proposal for 85,000 cars with 3.0-liter V6 engines was submitted in February, but there has been no clear discussion of it since then.

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