VW’s New Boss thinks his Brand is Only Headed Up

VW PR Crisis

Fall has not been kind to Volkswagen. An international scandal rocked the brand on two continents. While the literal price tag has yet to be tallied – VW expects it to cost them billions – the PR price tag has led to immediate changes at the top and among the rank and file. As expected, newly installed VW CEO Matthias Mueller says there’s nowhere for his company to go but up. He expects a shining new VW brand inside of three years. That’s an optimistic timeline, considering they will probably still be tabulating damages at that point, but, hey, a guy can dream.

In his recent address to company managers, Mueller said the company needed to grow leaner and make decisions faster. Hmm. Interesting take considering VW is in the process of recalling 8.5 million cars in Europe and 2.4 million in the U.S. due to some fairly hasty decision making. Seems like the message ought to be not just quick decisions but “right” decisions.

While that statement may not quite be a misfire, other recent decisions have definitely kept VW in the PR loss column. According to German media reports, the KBA rejected Volkswagen’s proposal encouraging customers to bring their vehicles in “voluntarily” for repair. It would have saved VW a bundle and been much less of a logistics headache, but the governing body was having none of that.

So, in addition to digging out of this and other subsequent messes, what is Mueller’s action plan going forward? Here’s what he said: “We will significantly streamline structures, processes, and (decision-making) bodies. We must become leaner and make decisions more rapidly. Our competitors are only waiting for us to fall behind on technology matters because we are so preoccupied with ourselves. But we won’t let that happen.”

While this may have been what his workers and leaders wanted to hear, it strikes a particularly tone-deaf chord where the consumer public is concerned. They are not interested in VW keeping up with the Joneses … particularly those customers who will be forced to turn their vehicles in for mandatory repairs and retrofitting. They are – justifiably – angry … and no amount of “technology” is going to salve that wound.

And, as already mentioned, the idea of streamlining infrastructures and making faster decisions does absolutely nothing to address the problem consumers face when considering whether or not to buy a VW. It’s almost as if the company knew what it was doing, got caught, and is now hoping to reframe the situation without actually addressing the problems they caused for their consumers. If Mueller doesn’t get on that “quickly” … he may be the next VW CEO going out Hindenburg style.

Ronn Torossian

Ronn Torossian is the founder and CEO of 5WPR and one of the most well-respected Public Relations professionals in the United States. Ronn is the author of "For Immediate Release: Shape Minds, Build Brands, and Deliver Results with Game-Changing Public Relations."

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