By on September 26, 2019

Johan De Nysschen Cadillac CT6, Image: Cadillac

A year and change after his ouster as president of the Cadillac brand, Johan de Nysschen has returned to a familiar place: Volkswagen of America, where, many moons ago, the executive sat on the automaker’s board while serving as Audi’s U.S. boss.

This homecoming sees de Nysschen take on the role of chief operating officer for the VW brand’s recently-created North American region. However, it will probably not, as one TTAC writer opined in a chatroom discussion, lead to the renaming of the Jetta GLI as the Q220.

In a release, VW of America said the 59-year-old de Nysschen, who’ll report to Volkswagen Group of America CEO Scott Keogh, is the right person for the job of boosting the efficiency and sales success of the more-independent-than-before region.

“This industry, and this brand, are at a transformative moment. Johan will help make us faster, better and smarter,” said Keogh in a statement. “He’ll speed our decision-making and dive deep into our day-to-day business so we can continue to make this brand matter again.”

VW created the region in a bid to decentralize decision-making in the wake of the diesel emissions scandal. With diesels off the market and sales declining in the U.S., the automaker hoped to boost volume in the critical North American market by increasing its autonomy. U.S. dealers had long complained of VW’s sluggish response in getting the vehicles customers wanted to those key markets.

Another key plank in VW’s plan was the actual building of vehicles aimed at Americans. Enter the significantly enlarged Tiguan, Atlas, and upcoming Atlas Cross Sport.

“I’m looking forward to rejoining a Group and leader I know well and admire,” said Johan, in what may be a veiled swipe at General Motors CEO Mary Barra. “This is a great opportunity to play an important role at a company of this scale at a fascinating time.”

de Nysschen’s career arc took him to Infiniti after leaving VW Group, but it was the four years spent running Cadillac he’ll be most remembered for. Under his leadership, the brand moved its headquarters from Detroit to New York City, only to see it, like de Nysschen, return home after his departure. A sedan slump, marketing missteps, and a dearth of much-needed crossover vehicles (a situation de Nysschen blamed on foot-dragging GM execs) plagued his time at the storied American brand.

Despite new products unveiled following his replacement by GM Canada’s Steve Carlisle, most would argue that Cadillac still has a long way to go before it returns to greatness.

VW of America, on the other hand, is enjoying rising sales even as the market cools. Brand volume rose 6.6 percent through August of this year, propelled by the Tiguan and Atlas’ still-rising popularity. On the horizon, electric vehicle production looms as VW prepares to bring I.D.-badged vehicles to Chattanooga. A sportier Atlas and perhaps a pickup wait in the wings for the non-green crowd.

Frankly, it’s an interesting and non-terrifying time to be at VW of America. de Nysschen is probably breathing a sigh of relief.

[Image: Volkswagen]

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13 Comments on “You Can Go Home Again: Johan de Nysschen Returns to Volkswagen...”

  • avatar
    R Henry

    It is interesting that de Nysschen maintains respect after unmitigated failure at two other manufacturers (Infiniti and Cadillac). It seems that VW is deeply insular, uninterested in what happens outside its gilded, albeit smokey, sphere.

    • 0 avatar

      You know how there’s the Peter Principle? There should be another one, where once a person rises to a certain level, they can just flit about from one organization to another, never being spectacular, but being serviceable enough to be hired in one place after another.

      • 0 avatar
        R Henry

        Great point…in fact, I benefit from that. Been a salesman for a long time. I was never a major rainmaker, but made some new business and never screwed up too badly. The force of inertia.

    • 0 avatar

      JdN wasn’t at Infiniti long enough to impact much of anything.

      Really only 2 things he did there before he left – 1) change the nomenclature and (2) sent the design of the Q60 coupe back to the drawing board b/c it was too bland.

      The problems at Infiniti is due to Ghosn having starved the marque of resources (prior to JdN joining Infiniti, Ghosn had contemplated shutting down Infiniti altogether).

      As for Cadillac, the travails GM’s lux arm has experienced over the past decade is largely due to the missteps of Mark Reuss, who in typical GM fashion, ended up getting promoted (helps to be an life-long insider and close friend of Barra).

      The ATS and CTS being too cramped compared to the competition and having interior not up to par (not mention the awful CUE system) – Reuss.

      The Alpha platform not being developed to be able to underpin CUVs – Reuss.

      The delay in developing (even) additional FWD CUVS (Reuss and the GM Board).

      Not to say that JdN was spot on in every move he made (btw, the decision to move Cadillac’s HQ to Manhattan was made before JdN was hired), but he was losing battle after battle w/ Reuss, until eventually, he quit.

      • 0 avatar

        Yes, I agree. It takes more than three and a half-years to change design direction and bring out new models based on that. If Reuss had even let him. Lead time for a brand new vehicle is that long alone.

        There was about zero hope that de Nysschen could change the mindless inertia of GM, where “everyone” knew they were going to make new Caddie cossovers on a GM parts bin base in a faceless factory hardly bespoke to Cadillac. Maybe he got his fingers on the CT6, maybe not, but he knew that he’d never get a chance to influence the crossovers.

        As for his nine months at Infiniti, well, at least he got to visit Hong Kong on salary.

        • 0 avatar

          JdN wanted Cadillac’s CUVs to be RWD, but there was little hope of that for anything smaller than a full-size 3 row as Reuss had the Alpha platform engineered to be incapable of supporting CUVs.

          Note how the inefficient packaging of the Alpha platform not only handcuffed ATS and CTS sales, would later torpedo Camaro sales when GM’s pony car was switched over.

          JdN had an Omega-based CUV in the works, but once Reuss became the de facto head of Cadillac, canceled it.

          The CT6 started development before JdN’s watch; what JdN was able to do was improve the sheetmetal w/ the F/L (adding some Escala design cues).

          The XT4 and XT6 also started development before JdN joined GM, but GMs Board halted additional funding to continue w/ the CUVs.

          The Board refused to fund any new products until they saw a plan which saw higher sales than what were projected.

          That’s why JdN moved so aggressively in China; w/ increased projected volume, the Board allowed the additional funding to complete both projects (this is a major reason why the additional Cadillac CUVs were so delayed).

  • avatar

    JdN: So at Audi, I changed the meaningless 5000, 80, and V8 names to A4, A6, and A8, and Audi made a number of drastic improvements to the cars to make them competitive with BMW and M-B.

    Infiniti: So we just change the name to increasing letter/number sequence, and we’re good. Got it.

    JdN: No…the ’96 A4 and ’98 A6 were both a massive improvement over what came before. The product has to be there.

    Infinti: So we just change the name to increasing letter/number sequence, and we’re good. Got it.

  • avatar

    It is really difficult to accomplish any kind of innovation within GM. Nysschen produced some of the best American performance sedans ever. Just ask Lutz how hard it is to change GM ways.

  • avatar

    Nice to see JdN doing alright. Ultimately he just became a front man for GM incompetence stretching back decades and I suppose did the best he could.

  • avatar

    “I’m looking forward to rejoining a Group and leader I know well and admire,” said Johan, in what may be a veiled swipe at General Motors CEO Mary Barra.”

    I just wonder if his parting words to Mary were “dare greatly”. Although in all honesty I still don’t have a clue what the heck that means.

  • avatar

    After de Nysschen left GM introduced their now infamous castrated Cadillacs. It seems Cadillac’s decline happened over night.

    Hopefully, the strike will save Cadillac one impressive car the CT6-v.

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