Preparation for the changing of the guard is already under way. Gerd Klauss, currently VP and the top executive at VW's sister unit, Audi of America, becomes president of VW of America on that date. And he has tapped VW executive David Huyett to head up marketing, VW has confirmed.
"I want to bring a little balance back into my life," said Mr. Wilhite, who told Advertising Age he will relocate from the Detroit area to his hometown of San Diego after nine years at VW.
"The time is right" for the move, he said, as VW's new president prepares to take the helm.
Mr. Wilhite has been core process leader-sales and marketing.
Steve Keyes, director of corporate communications at VW, said Mr. Wilhite was not forced out.
"It was a sort of mutual thing," he said, and Mr. Wilhite concurred.
Mr. Huyett currently is core process leader-distribution and parts for VW corporate, handling planning, ordering and stocking of parts for both VW and Audi brands in the U.S. and Canada.
Mr. Klauss is studying whether to split the marketing and sales duties of the current core process leader position into two posts.
Mr. Huyett has marketing experience, having worked with Mr. Klauss in 1993 as Audi marketing director and, before that, as Audi product market planning director. Prior to moving into the Audi product post in mid-1992, he was director of marketing services at VW.
Mr. Wilhite said he's most proud of rebuilding the brand and sales for VW dealers. He was part of the team that hired agency Arnold Communications, Boston, in March 1995.
BUILT A NEW IMAGE
Arnold helped build a new image for VW as hip and fun to drive when it launched its "Drivers wanted" campaign in summer 1995.
VW was barely surviving in the U.S. five years ago. Sales tumbled to a low of 75,870 units in 1992, according to Automotive News. Last year, VW's U.S. sales rose to 137,885, up 1.4% over 1996. Through August, VW said, it surpassed 1997 totals, selling 152,345 vehicles.
VW's ad budget has also risen, from $70 million in 1995 to $106.6 million last year, according to Competitive Media Reporting. During the first six months of 1998, it spent $124.8 million, CMR said.