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VW service improvements the priority: Bartsch

Taking over: Volkswagen Group Australia managing director John White is heading back to Canada later this month when former Porsche North America chief Michael Bartsch takes over this week.

New VW Australia boss to prioritise aftersales service lift over sales growth

14 Oct 2015

VOLKSWAGEN Group Australia's (VGA) incoming managing director, Michael Bartsch, says he will continue the work of outgoing chief John White in improving the German brand's aftersales service levels Down Under.

The former Porsche Cars North America executive vice-president and COO said he is also optimistic about the German brand's chances of bouncing back from the diesel emissions crisis that is engulfing the company around the world.

Mr Bartsch this week takes over as MD from John White who is returning to Canada for an early retirement after leading the Australian arm of VW since April 2013.

Speaking with journalists at the launch of the eighth-generation Passat this week, Mr Bartsch said he would prioritise customer service improvements over building sales volume in Australia.

“John has already made a very clear statement of where the priorities lie and they don’t change on my coming in,” he said.

“The business at the front end has grown much faster than we have developed the business at the back end, and (fixing that) that remains an absolute number one priority.”

Mr Bartch said customer satisfaction, pricing and back-end capacity needed to be addressed.

“If we want to get to those (sales) growth volumes long term, it is a priority,” he said.

Mr White told GoAuto in July that while there were clear improvements in the service levels, it was not happening at a pace that he was satisfied with.

“It’s improving but not fast enough to the degree that we wanted,” he said at the time. “Our aspirations are high. If you want to be a top-tier volume brand, if you want to be a top-tier group, and that includes Skoda, we need to continue working on that.”

The focus on lifting its service levels came after VW finished at the bottom of the annual JD Power Customer Service Index (CSI) study three years in a row.

The 2014 study, released in November, saw VW achieve a score of 765 out of a maximum 1000 points – well below the industry average of 790 but an improvement over its result in the previous two years (743 and 757 respectively).

On the diesel emissions scandal, Mr Bartsch said VW would find it easier to move forward once it was clear how the cheating device made its way into 11 million VW Group vehicles.

“You’ve got to wait until it's clear how it happened,” he said.

Mr Bartsch said his 20 years with Porsche and years under the VW Group had shown him the integrity of the company.

“You have to pragmatically sit back and go 'something has gone wrong somewhere', and things go wrong in the best of families,” he said. “And it’s not the fact that something has gone wrong, it’s how you handle it.” Mr Bartsch said he was not worried about the long-term impact of the emissions scandal, adding that it could have a positive impact on the company in ensuring an issue like this did not occur again.

“It doesn’t worry me,” he said. “It worries me that we have some reputation issues. But if anything, I think it is a motivator to get it right because something has gone wrong and it has got to be fixed.

“(VW bosses) Mr Mueller and Mr Winterkorn have made it very clear, and nobody is going to shy away from it.”

Mr Bartsch backed-up Mr White's support of diesel powertrains in Volkswagen's line-up for many years to come.

“The Euro 6 technology is there,” he said. “It is achieving the really high and very stringent exhaust emissions requirements from an EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) point of view in the US and Europe. It might need some PR after this is done ...”

Mr Bartsch said people would still buy according to their specific needs.

“Diesel will have a place for a long time to come,” he said.

While Mr Bartsch has been based in the United States for more than 10 years, he almost returned to Australia in 2013 to head-up Porsche Cars Australia as former managing director Michael Winkler's replacement, but, as reported, he elected to stay Stateside for family reasons.

He then led Infiniti America as vice-president for about 18 months before finishing up in February this year.

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