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Volkswagen Hires a Marketing Chief to Watch

One hopes, anyway. While marketing won’t save you from a roadside breakdown (it might, in a roundabout way, get you into that situation), it nonetheless exists on the periphery of the automotive realm, subtly impacting sales. If a campaign is successful, the impact might be more than subtle. If it’s bad, the automaker is suddenly open to jokes and criticism.

Then the PR types in the comms department go to work.

One company that’s seen plenty of action in both departments in the recent past is Volkswagen. If you’re unfamiliar with this obscure German brand, you may remember it as the company selling “clean diesel” cars with fantastic fuel economy a number of years back. With that scandal now fading in the rear-view, the effort to rebrand the company as a receptive steward of the earth is well underway. And the man who’ll lead that charge in America is Saad Chehab, former communications dude for Kia Motors America.

Chehab, 52, who left Kia in June, has appeared at VW of America as the brand’s senior vice-president of marketing. Before his stint at Kia, Chebab held the position of president and CEO of the Chrysler brand.

It was during his time at Chrysler that Chehad, prodded by former Fiat Chrysler boss Sergio Marchionne, came up with the idea to tie rapper Eminem (then a recording artist and not a virtual recluse) with the sort-of new Chrysler 200, all set against a prideful Detroit backdrop. You recall the “Imported from Detroit” Super Bowl commercial, right?

Saad’s your guy.

Now, the exec will attempt to distance VW from its recent role as massive lawbreaker and polluter extraordinaire while affixing a green halo over the brand. Or will he? While it would make sense to craft a whole new image for the automaker (something which will likely occur) given that there’s a crop of electric vehicles inbound, a recent commercial from the brand laid bare the company’s wrongdoings. So unexpected was the ad, we wrote about it here. It was brave and manipulative at the same time.

With Chehab hanging his name outside the office door on August 19th, we await to see what marketing coup the new arrival crafts for the brand. As for VW itself, the automaker fueled its U.S. comeback with a brace of crossovers (one new, the other larger and improved) and a beefier yet still cheap Jetta.

As other automakers shed sales in the big volume chill, VW is reclaiming lost ground. Through the end of July, the brand recorded a 6.1 percent sales gain in the United States, with the Jetta posting a 43 percent YTD gain. The midsize Atlas posted a 31 percent hike, with the Tiguan not far behind it at 25 percent.

[Images: Volkswagen of America]

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