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Scott Keogh Named New Audi of America Chief

Replaces long-time boss De Nysschen.

by on Jun.21, 2012

Luxury segment veteran Scott Keogh will be Audi's new president, replacing Johan De Nysschen.

Audi of America has a new president, current marketing chief Scott Keogh taking the reins after the recent, surprise departure of the maker’s long-time U.S. boss Johan De Nysschen.

The 43-year-old Keogh steps in at a good time for the automaker which has posted 17 consecutive months of record sales, reaching an all-time high in the U.S. market last year.  But the new Audi of America president will have to now prove he can maintain that momentum – and position Audi to meet a target set by his predecessor of nearly doubling sales by 2016.

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“Audi has demonstrated remarkable progress in recent years,” said Keogh from Audi’s U.S. headquarters in the Washington, D.C. suburb of Herndon, Virginia. “There is much work to be done in a highly competitive segment of the auto business. But the sights are set and the team is in place to meet our goals.”

The shift in the maker’s upper ranks was set in motion when De Nysschen – a 20-year Audi veteran who’d run U.S. operations since 2005 – unexpectedly resigned.  That move initially appeared to be set in motion by a broader shift in senior management within parent Volkswagen AG.  But days later, De Nysschen revealed he would become the new global CEO of Infiniti.  The Nissan luxury brand has set expansive growth targets for itself and is moving its worldwide headquarters to Hong Kong, where the South African-born executive will now relocate.

Keogh appeared the likely choice to succeed De Nysschen.  He has been Audi’s Chief Marketing Officer in the U.S. for six years, a challenging period during which the maker has finally begun to break out of the second tier of luxury brands.

Audi has been struggling in the States since the late 1980s, when it was blamed for a rash of accidents linked to so-called Unintended Acceleration.  Despite later being cleared in an investigation by U.S. safety regulators the maker’s image was sorely tarnished and sales continued to slide.   By 1992, with volume down to just 12,000 units parent VW nearly shut down Audi’s American operations but decided to give the brand one more chance.

Sales began to recover but lagged both long-time segment leader Lexus as well as European top-tier luxury makers BMW and Mercedes-Benz.  By contrast, Audi is now outselling all three rivals in a number of other key markets around the world.

To build U.S. demand, Audi AG has expanded the subsidiary’s line-up, better tuning cars to American tastes.  Keogh, meanwhile, has pushed the marque to take more marketing risks, spending big on Super Bowl advertising and tying up with Hollywood blockbusters such as the Iron Man franchise.

The payoff has been a series of annual sales gains, Audi one of the stronger brands during the recent recession.  Last year U.S. volume rose 15%, to an all-time record 117,561.  And the maker is on track for another new high in 2012.  But the challenge will be to not only keep that momentum growing but build on it if Audi is to reach the 200,000 mark by 2016.

“We see exceptional growth opportunity in the U.S. market as we continue moving toward our goal of positioning Audi as the leading luxury automotive brand in the world by 2020,” said Rupert Stadler, the maker’s Chairman and Chief Executive Officer. “Gains in the U.S. are truly a strategic pillar for the brand and we are confident that the leadership provided by Scott Keogh will continue the momentum at Audi of America.”

A key step in the building process will be the addition of a long-anticipated new Audi assembly plant in Mexico that will go into operation by mid-decade.  That should help reduce the maker’s dependence on products imported from the Euro-zone – which means paying a hefty premium because of the weak dollar.

Both BMW and Mercedes now produce an expanding list of models in North America.  Meanwhile, those marques continue to expand their overall product lines – and, like Audi, are pressing the marketing boundaries to remain dominant.

If anyone has a sense of what the other German makers are all about, however, it’s Keoogh, who spent more than a decade working through a series of senior management jobs for Mercedes-Benz USA and its Smart brand.

Keogh holds a Bachelor of Arts from Hobart and William Smith Colleges in upstate New York.

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