VW America's chief has a plan to move past the emissions scandal

Russ Mitchell, Los Angeles Times on

Published in Business News

LOS ANGELES -- Scott Keogh is apologetic about the Volkswagen diesel cheating scandal. But he wants everyone to know that the company has fundamentally changed its ways.

The rank and file at Volkswagen "didn't cause this madness," said the chief executive of Volkswagen Group of America, "but we have a responsibility to the millions of Volkswagen customers who love this brand, to the dealers, to the employees to regain their trust."

The scandal, sparked by an investigation by California regulators in 2015, set the company reeling. Top VW executives have been fired, fined, accused of crimes and, in one case, sent to prison. Sales suffered, profits went poof, and VW scrambled to remake itself.

Keogh, 50, was head of North America operations for Audi, an arm of VW, before he assumed his current role almost exactly a year ago. Up to that point, VW hadn't named an American citizen to that position in 25 years.

Part of the plan to heal dieselgate's wounds is to craft a clean-energy image for VW. Three all-electric Volkswagens are expected to hit the U.S. over the next three years, including a crossover SUV by the end of next year and an electric take on the vaunted VW microbus due in 2022.

VW has joined Ford, Honda and BMW to support California's stricter emissions requirements, bucking up against the Trump administration's plan to loosen them. It plans to achieve a companywide zero-carbon footprint by 2050.


The company kicked off a new marketing campaign this year with a commercial that uses Simon & Garfunkel's "The Sounds of Silence" to contrast dieselgate darkness with a new, happy electric-future light.

There's work to be done. VW accounts for only about 2% of the overall U.S. market. That share declined slightly in the scandal's wake. Soon after dieselgate, surveys showed 32% of potential customers said they would actively avoid VW.

"It's impossible to succeed with those kind of numbers," Keogh said in an interview at the Los Angeles Auto Show. "Your average brand has anywhere between 8% and 10%."

He claims that number is now down by half, to 15%. "That's the thing I'm happiest about," he said.


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