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Karsten Seifert, Volkswagen: "Taking Volkswagen Forward"

Karsten Seifert recently took on the role of Head of International Fleet, Rent-a-Car and Used Car Strategy at Volkswagen. But his Volkswagen path goes back a long way. Since 1994 he has executed various management and executive functions with responsibilities in North and South America, South Africa and Europe. In his new function, Karsten Seifert has to support Volkswagen’s future growth in international corporate sales. And the man has a plan.

“With the fleet team and our partners we are working on providing solutions for the business today. Additionally we are transferring our brand into the new digital century”, starts Karsten Seifert the interview. “We are therefore uniting five core aspects in terms of strategic and operational fleet business under one umbrella.”

“First of all it is about bundling all resources in one department in order to react fast, pragmatically and transparently in the global markets.

Secondly, having the international responsibility too, we will carry over best practices of fleet experienced markets to global markets.

As a third step the brand is focusing on current and future fleet customer needs worldwide. The business is growing and is gaining more and more importance in different aspects. Our fleet strategy will be an integral part of our 2025 strategy.

The fourth core topic is that we are also taking care of the further development of the international and strategic program ‘Das Weltauto’, our used car program. The program does not only include Volkswagen – it is a multi-brand approach within our group to increase all kind of efficiencies.

As a fifth aspect we will focus on our involvement in the digitalization development of our future product and service portfolio.”

How has been the year so far for Volkswagen in sales and in particular Fleet sales?

“First of all we have further intensified the communication and relationship with our customers during the last year to give a more transparent view of the situation.

In terms of total sales we are growing slightly and see a stable development of Volkswagen in the European countries compared to 2015. However markets are developing quite differently. Markets such as Poland and the Czech Republic are performing extremely well. In UK we see some challenges due to the Brexit effect and in France the market is very tough due to competition.

In terms of fleet we still lead the True Fleet market in Europe with over 390.000 registered units in the first nine months of 2016. We are still on track to remain number one in Europe for true fleet. With Golf and Passat we have the two best performing models in the fleet segment.

In general Volkswagen is currently planning to achieve for 2016 in total a similar sales level to 2015. The loyal feedback of most of our fleet customers strengthens our future collaboration. And for 2017 we see potential thanks to new model launches.”

What are your main objectives in your new role and how are you going to realize them?

As one main pillar of our future sales concept we’re currently working on defining a ‘New Fleet’ strategy in order to make sure that we will meet our customers’ future mobility requirements and establish Volkswagen passenger cars as the most reliable and attractive partner dedicated to maximize our customers’ convenience.

With the Volkswagen Group future program ‘Together – Strategy 2025’ we will be faster, more innovative, more customer-oriented and more consequently focused on profitable growth.

To meet the local and fast changing wishes of the customer in this digital century we want to provide, alongside electric vehicles, new mobility solutions.

Therefore we are processing on multimodal mobility solutions in order to offer all future means of mobility – such as fleet management and corporate car sharing solutions. We will pay very close attention to supporting our customers in making their fleets and their mobility management ready for the future by providing highly professional mobility consultancy by our importers and networks.

To do so, we are involving our customers at many stages to find out the clear needs and therefore fulfil the exact requirements.

And with a new e-product range, starting with 2020, it is our clear target to move our TCO for e-cars significantly forward to get close to the range of our combustion engines and to become more attractive and especially competitive. It is our clear target to be the leading e-car manufacturer in the world. To do it is one of the most moving challenges we have ever facing, and my team and I are proud to be part of this development to redefine the future strategy and put these concepts, especially in terms of fleet mobility, on the roads.”

What can we expect in terms of product and model development in the upcoming year with interest for corporate fleets?

"We will continue our ongoing product offensive and we will launch further major important fleet cars. The launch of the new Tiguan exceeded all past launches so far. It is a clear premium car that already shows the new brand approach. The car has the potential to be the most successful A SUV in the world, knowing that in the second half of 2017, there is the market launch of a longer 7 seater version of the Tiguan.
With the new Golf, that just had its world premiere in Berlin, we are making our most important car and most famous model more digital, more expressive and even more reliable. And the new Golf will be the first car available with gesture control – a big step forward in terms of connectivity. The Golf family also includes the new e-Golf, with an extended electric range and it is our clear target to expand our market share in this segment.

We will also introduce the new Polo in 2017. This car, that plays a major role in our true fleet segment, will get a new sporty design that will attract both - younger and elder people.

Looking at the SUV segment, we will provide our customers with a completely new and highly demanded car. With our new Compact SUV that will rock the road at the end of 2017, we believe we can also reap the benefits of our efforts and take over a leading position in the A0-SUV segment in the future."

You are responsible for international fleet, rent a car and used car strategy. What trends do you see in these 3 areas?

"In terms of international fleet it is clear that the increasing shift in customer behavior leads to a different way of thinking; from ‘owning a car’ we move towards ‘using mobility’. As an example we see increased ‘car-on-demand’ requirements as a first step towards fleet mobility management away from the traditional car ownership. That also has an impact on rent-a-car in the long term perspective which becomes more and more linked to each kind of mobility demand, such as car sharing.
Telematics data will be used to make decisions in real-time to identify the most cost-efficient, quickest, and most ecological possibilities of transport at any given time to be able to offer the best service for our fleet customers.

And mobile online services and range of e-cars are changing rapidly and will influence the increased demand of used car customers. So next to secure a high leveled quality which shapes the residual values in a positive way, we have to meet the used car customer expectation in terms of offering an up-to-date connectivity system that supports the used car driver in the same way as a new car customer.  Our program “Das Weltauto” offers a solid basis to develop the right concept for our future used car customer.”

Volkswagen has striving ambitions in terms of electric and shared mobility. What can you tell us?

"We will offer integrated solutions combining cars, mobile online services and multimodal mobility options. We will support our customers to analyze their mobility behavior and provide tailor-made solutions for their specific needs from a single source. For example we will be able to provide vehicles and the technological infrastructure for fields of action like corporate car sharing and sustainable public mobility solutions. It is our clear target to be the most reliable and attractive partner in corporate mobility with a focus on maximizing our customers’ convenience.
When looking into the future, autonomous driving will be a normal part of our lives. It brings a new form of freedom and wins back lost time. We are talking about five steps toward self-driving cars. Currently we are seeing cars with level 2 on the street – this means with assistant systems that help accelerating, decelerating or keeping the lane. Only cars with the level 4 will be able to drive completely autonomously and then cars of level 5 do not any more have a steering wheel or pedals. To achieve this we need to improve the sensor technology. Additionally the computing power needs to be increased by 20 to 30 times. The required technology for level 4 and five we will be achieved in the next three to five years.

In Paris we set the first milestone for this new path we are striving for. Volkswagen will bring a new electric product range, starting with 2020. With our new I.D. model we are bringing the first Volkswagen of a complete new e-car portfolio that enables electrical ranges of 400 to 600 kilometers. The car gives an outlook in terms of fully automatic driving and personalizes the driving experiences via individual digital keys. It unites present and future on a price level of a comparable Golf motorization. Parameters such as drive, space and comfort, are defined completely new and the I.D. has the greatest potential to make history. Within our brand we believe the new I.D. will become as iconic for automotive as Beetle and Golf.”

We are one year on from the emission issue related to your brand and Volkswagen Group. Do you believe you have been able to turn the negative image around?

"During this year we clearly focused on a continuous close and transparent communication with our fleet customers. Providing the right information as fast as possible and contacting the customers proactively was our focus to win back trust and to improve the image.

The other core aspect is to offer in terms of our service action, a professional service, free of charge. To complete the service actions successfully we absolutely focus on a clean and simplified process, such as ensuring alternative mobility where necessary, putting fast lanes in place at dealerships or offering “Flying doctors”.

According to the analysis of relevant residual value institutes and according to our own market observation the development of residual values remain stable. The development runs currently in the course of usual fluctuation. The program “Das Weltauto” also ensures future customers an extended warranty and extensive pre-delivery checks to meet the highest quality requirements.

With regards to integrity our Volkswagen group board structure was additionally expanded. 

By establishing a new board member function for Integrity and Legal affairs we are leaving new marks on the way to a new image.

We know that regaining trust is a long way. But we have paved the way and we are on a good track to overcome the rocky zone, also due to our loyal fleet customers. Our customers are the heart of our brand, the most important asset. To make them happy and satisfied is the most important core aspect to focus on in the next years.”

02/01/2017  |  Steven Schoefs

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