In The Wake Of Dieselgate, Volkswagen Is Less Interested In Being World's Biggest Automaker

October 29, 2015

For the better part of a decade, Volkswagen has boasted about its plan to become the world's biggest automaker by 2018. But according to a statement from Volkswagen's new CEO, Matthias Muller, the Dieselgate scandal is forcing the company to rethink its goals.

In a statement issued to the press, Muller outlined a five-step program to get the troubled automaker back on track. The first two steps are directly related to Volkswagen's ongoing diesel crisis, which stems from illegal emissions-cheating software installed on at least 11 million VW, Audi and other vehicles.

Muller's first priority is satisfying Volkswagen customers who've been affected by the scandal. Step two involves conducting an internal investigation to identify responsible parties, who will face "severe consequences".

Steps three and four sound awfully similar to changes that GM instituted in recent years. Volkswagen plans to reevaluate its portfolio of products, just as GM shuttered brands and slimmed the number of models it produced in the wake of the Great Recession. Muller also says that he wants to create a more open corporate culture, where cooperation across departments and brands is encouraged, much as GM did after last year's ignition switch fiasco.

But it's Muller's step #5 that interested us most. We'll let the statement speak for itself:

The Volkswagen CEO announced that the fifth priority will be to transform the Group’s Strategy 2018 into a Strategy 2025. “Many people outside of Volkswagen, but also some of us, did not understand that our Strategy 2018 is about much more than production numbers. A lot of things were subordinated to the desire to be “Faster, Higher, Larger”, especially return on sales.” According to Müller, the point is not to sell 100,000 more or fewer vehicles than a major competitor. Instead, the real issue is qualitative growth. Müller announced that the cornerstones of the Group’s Strategy 2025 will be developed over the coming months, and that it would be unveiled mid-way through next year. [emphasis ours]

That hints at what many analysts and journalists have already suggested: that Volkswagen's focus on raw numbers fostered an environment in which employees cut corners and fudged details to meet sales targets. 

We won't know whether that was truly the case -- and if it was, how pervasive that atmosphere was -- until Volkswagen's investigation wraps up. Still it's an encouraging sign to see the company talking about prioritizing quality over quantity.

We'll see if Muller and his team can hold Volkswagen to that plan going forward.

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