Martin Winterkorn, a talented goalkeeper who had professional aspirations and now runs Volkswagen AG, the porous performance was hard to witness. Yet at a recent management meeting he dimmed the lights, cued the video and made his team watch the nightmare play out again.
When the lights came back up Winterkorn solemnly reminded his people of what they already knew: “It’s halftime.” Five years ago, on the eve of the Great Recession, he had laid out an aggressive plan to land Volkswagen at the top of the global auto industry by 2018, surpassing both General Motors and Toyota. “We’ve had three strong years,” he acknowledged. “You might feel good, but we have to stay focused.”
His goal is more than just topping GM and Toyota financially. By 2018 Volkswagen will be “the world’s most profitable, fascinating and sustainable automobile manufacturer,” Winterkorn says, with annual sales of 10 million vehicles and a pretax profit margin of 8% or higher, compared with the modest 6% on sales of 6.2 million cars and trucks worldwide when he took over in 2007. He also intends to have the most satisfied customers and employees (there are 550,000 of the latter worldwide) in the industry. “Only an automaker who can achieve all these goals,” he tells FORBES, “can really call itself number one with justification.”
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