Driving seat at VW in Dublin empty
It’s all change at the top at Ford and Toyota but no MD announced yet at Volkswagen
Toyota Motor Corp emblem: David Shannon is handing over the keys to Toyota’s Ireland operations on December 31st to his deputy Steve Tormey. Shannon was behind the wheel at Toyota for 20 years as managing director. Photograph: EPA/Kimimasa Mayama
It’s all change at the top of the three leading car brands in Ireland, as the motor trade prepares for a return to better days.
With sales expectations of over 110,000 new cars in 2015, it has proved timely for the bosses at motoring big guns Ford, VW and Toyota to call it a day. These are the three brands which topped the car market throughout the recession.
Over at Ford, president and chairman Eddie Murphy’s 14- year tenure at the top comes to an end on the same day, with current sales director Ciarán McMahon taking over.
However the changes are not as clear-cut at Ireland’s best-selling car brand, Volkswagen. The brand was previously managed in Ireland by Motor Distributors, owned by the O’Flaherty family. It was a top-five brand but seemed content to leave the top spot as a two-horse race between Ford and Toyota. That was not in line with the German car giant’s plans so in 2007 it announced it was taking over direct control of its brands in Ireland from October 2008.
The timing could be regarded as unfortunate but VW established itself as a top brand at a time when the marketing and promotion costs to back such a move were at an all-time low. It also took back control of the other group brands – Skoda, Seat, Audi – and repeated the formula with varying degrees of success.
When you can call upon a parent reporting billion euro profits – €9 billion for 2013 – throwing a few euros to take over the Irish market doesn’t even use up the loose change in the back pocket of your lederhosen.
However, as the shoots of recovery started to take root, VW Ireland’s boss since 2011, Simon Elliott, came to the end of the traditional three-year posting in July. He returned to the UK as chief executive of MAN Truck and Bus UK, also part of the VW family.
Since then the driving seat at VW Group Ireland has been empty. That’s perhaps a sign of confidence in the rest of the staff at the Liffey Valley headquarters. And there are several managers over from HQ in Germany who are keeping an eye on things, particularly the money. But it also suggests that Ireland isn’t high on the priority list back at Wolfsburg, or even over at the UK head office in Milton Keynes.
The UK operation has always kept a fraternal eye on the Irish affairs. The fact that the current UK boss is Paul Willis, the first boss of VW Group Ireland when it arrived in 2008, hasn’t gone unnoticed either.
After leaving Ireland he was posted to China as boss of Skoda in the massive developing market. He returned to the top-tier UK role last February.
While in Ireland, the Belfast-born boss demolished the cosy club atmosphere amongst VW’s Irish dealers under the O’Flaherty regime. Willis built up a formidable reputation in the Irish motor trade as a no-nonsense Northerner. And he knows what’s under the bonnet of the Irish car market. He may be tempted to do a little backseat driving regardless of whoever takes over at the wheel of the Irish operation.