Ever since the massive international emissions scandal, Volkswagen has been actively working to regain its position as one of the top automaker on the planet. It’s been a tough return to that pinnacle, and the company has made a lot of changes in their journey.

The latest shift in the process has been a surprise to many. Volkswagen recently replaced its top executive: CEO Matthias Mueller is out, soon to be replaced by VW Brand Chief Herbert Diess. The change comes at a time where many thought VW had come almost all the way back. The company was, once again, at the top of the heap, moving 10.7 million units in 2017, making it the top automaker in the world, measured by sales. It’s a bit of a backhanded thank-you to Mueller, who helmed the company through one of the worst PR disasters in the automotive industry in recent history. In three years, Mueller helped turn the brand back around, get it back in the good graces of consumers and push the brand back to top prominence. And he did all that after being brought in when the heat over the emissions scandal was at its hottest.

So, why is VW handing the reins to a man who, until recently, helmed only the VW brand but is not in charge of a conglomerate that includes Audi, Bentley, Bugatti, Lamborghini, and Porsche? The decision may have to do with what investors think about Mueller’s leadership. VW shares popped on the news of the leadership change. It’s possible the consumer public will see the leadership change as VW looking ahead, rather than continuing to work through the scandal that rocked the company. It is certainly an issue the company would like to have in the rearview. After all, the emissions scandal caused stock prices to plummet, costing the company more than $30 billion… and counting.

The emissions scandal also caused many consumers to eschew diesel cars, turning instead to other alternatives. Mueller, too, seemed interested in pushing Volkswagen more into electric or hybrid vehicles. Under his leadership, VW vowed to release up to 80 new plug-in electric or hybrid models in the next several years.

That commitment launched a space race of sorts in the market, leading several other automakers to make similar commitments. That alone changed the dynamic in the industry and proved that VW is still the trendsetter. It’s possible that fully embracing that role meant a change at the top as well, though that’s just speculation. At present, though, the market seems happy with the decision. No word, yet, on how the public will feel about the change.

Ronn Torossian has over 20 years of experience in the public relations industry


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