VW dealers worry about ‘revolving door’ ahead of Scott Keogh’s exit

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When Volkswagen Group named Scott Keogh CEO of its North American region in 2018, U.S. dealers rejoiced: Not only had he proved himself capable when he was running Audi, but he intimately knew the U.S. market as the first American in the job in 25 years.

Their reaction was understandable, not just because of Keogh, but because of what he potentially represented: stability — something dealers had not enjoyed in more than two decades of global executives rotating in and out of VW of America.

While profitability has returned in force for VW dealers — the brand says average dealer profit margins are now about triple what they were four years ago — stability at the top remains elusive.

When Keogh officially steps down as CEO of VW of America on Sept. 1 and becomes a "company of one" building the Scout brand from the ground up, he will be succeeded by Argentinian Pablo Di Si, who now heads VW in South America.

Greeting Di Si will be:

  • Australian Andrew Savvas, who joined VW of America in January as executive vice president of sales and marketing, after the voluntary departure of Duncan Movassaghi.
  • South Africans Hein Schafer, head of product planning, who joined VW of America in 2018, and COO Johan de Nysschen, hired in 2019.
  • Americans David Durant, senior vice president of aftersales, who has been in the role since April 2018, and Ray Mikiciuk, senior vice president of sales, hired in October 2020. Another American, Kimberley Gardiner, whom Keogh had hired as senior vice president for marketing in November 2020 from Mitsubishi, left the company July 15, and her replacement has not been announced. Two other execs who were instrumental in leading VW's launch of the ID4 electric compact crossover, Matt Renna and Dustin Krause, departed in spring 2022.

Among VW's U.S. dealers, a familiar feeling returned that had little to do with the personalities involved.

"Here we go again. It's that same revolving door feeling," one longtime VW dealer told Automotive News on condition of anonymity. "I don't blame Keogh — [building Scout is] a great job, and Di Si seems like a nice enough guy. The dealer body's concern is that we have this revolving door, where the new person comes in and takes a year to review what's going on and get their footing, gets another year and a half to do anything, and then gets sent off to another assignment. It's been like that for a long time."

Of course, the changeover at VW of America is separate from the drama in Wolfsburg, Germany, where embattled Volkswagen Group CEO Herbert Diess agreed to depart Sept. 1 in a surprise July 22 announcement, to be replaced by Porsche CEO Oliver Blume. It's unclear whether that change will ultimately alter the group's massive commitment to full electrification across its global lineup or whether it might delay it in certain markets.

Another longtime VW dealer in another part of the U.S. echoed the concerns and laid the fault, especially for Diess' departure, on the automaker's German doorstep.

"It's the [Piech] family," said the second dealer, who requested anonymity for fear of reprisal. "They're loyal to you as long as you are loyal to them, but the minute you don't do what they say or you push back, you're gone."

Even with all of the change, former VW dealer advisory council head John Luciano says dealers have quickly developed confidence in Savvas and see him protecting their interests amid any executive tumult.

"He's saying the right things. He's doing the right things. And the new people coming in at least have experience with the VW brand," Luciano said.

"Dealers are concerned, of course, but we have a tremendous amount of faith in Andrew. And this is the VW way. I think we all hoped and prayed that Scott would be here long term, but we knew he was too talented and too ambitious to pass on such an opportunity."

In a post on LinkedIn in late July, Keogh took a victory lap of sorts for the progress he's made leading VW of America, broadening the brand's crossover offerings and turning around its long-suffering balance sheet. He said the brand and the automaker's North American operations are in a good place and in good hands.

"VW is now a profitable engine for change and a beacon for electrification in the automotive industry with the local ID.4 and the return of an icon in the shape of the ID. Buzz," Keogh wrote. "VW across the region is thriving and will continue to soar under the leadership of Pablo Di Si and recapture its rightful place in the market."

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