It is no secret that Volkswagen Group has been struggling with what is truly an enormous challenge. The giant auto corporation has been watching the shifting winds and realizes that the future of automobiles isn’t diesel, isn’t gasoline, isn’t hydrogen, and isn’t even electricity — it’s software. The problem for traditional automakers is that their expertise is mostly in physical things, like engines, vehicle bodies, and steering wheels. Volkswagen, not wanting to be left behind as the industry evolved, decided a year or so ago that having 90% of its software outsourced wasn’t acceptable and it was time to become more like a certain Silicon Valley automaker. It was time to take control of its software to a much greater extent, and to unify it under a new Car.Software division. The future of Volkswagen was dependent on VW.OS. Unfortunately, the first year hasn’t gone swimmingly.
I think a problem for those of us who don’t know software very well is that great software comes across as super simple and clean (easy, right?), whereas it is often insanely complex and painstaking work behind the scenes that makes it seem so simple. The other challenging thing is that if you aren’t really, really superb at software, you can’t judge candidates who are trying to get a job working on your team and you can’t adequately evaluate the work of the people you hire, let alone use your own foresight to see when they are headed down a wrong path.
I don’t know Christian Senger, I don’t know how well he knows software, and I wouldn’t be able to evaluate his work at Volkswagen no matter how much I knew about him because I don’t know software well enough to build a simple app, let alone a complex automotive software unit. That said, everyone who has been following this story (pro-VW or anti-VW) knows that software for the Volkswagen ID.3 and the new Golf has run into big problems and is horribly delayed. Generally speaking, there’s a sense that Volkswagen Group lost many months or even a year plus of work on this newfound adventure to become a software giant. So, it is unsurprising that we get the news today that Senger, member of the Brand Board of Management of Volkswagen and head of Digital Car & Services (tech), is about to be removed from the board and demoted from his position as the software lead.
Who’s the Next Volkswagen Software Chief?
As someone interested in seeing VW.OS succeed, so that we get more great electric vehicles on the road, I saw this as a positive change and was most eager to see who would take up the role of Car.Software head honcho. Would Volkswagen put a person in this role who lives and breathes software? Would the person come from outside the auto industry, from a top tech leader?
It turns out, instead, that the company is going to put Markus Duesmann, the CEO of Audi since April 1 who was an executive at BMW before that, into Senger’s position. This comes as a disappointment for a couple of reasons.
First of all, I don’t see anything in Duesmann’s history that tell me he understands software well. He’s a mechanical engineer who has moved around the industry in various non-software roles. Just as I wouldn’t put Michael Jordan in charge of a large, challenging software initiative, I wouldn’t put an automotive mechanical engineer in charge of this automotive reinvention and software development.
The second thing that concerns me is that Markus Duesmann recently came out and effectively smack-talked the EV revolution, emphasizing the huge role he sees diesel and gasoline engines playing in the auto industry years to come. Yikes! That doesn’t inspire confidence. While Volkswagen’s software revolution and powertrain revolution are not one in the same, they do go hand in hand. The company is trying to make a quick shift into an entirely new era, one in which expertise of the past is all but useless and executives need to have open minds that thrive in change. Duesmann’s comments on EVs and antiquated fossil powertrains that cause far too much pollution make him seem out of touch with the mindset and needs of today, let alone the rest of the 2020s.
Maybe we just got off to the wrong foot and one poor Duesmann quote has painted him in the wrong light. We’ll keep an eye on things to consider that possibility, but even if that was the case, there’s nothing clearly indicating to me right now that Duesmann has the expertise to oversee he development of Cars.Software/VW.OS.
Perhaps Duesmann is a placeholder until Volkswagen Group gets a more fitting software leader. Perhaps.
For much more on Volkswagen’s recent software plans and software struggles, see:
- Volkswagen Software Comments — 10 Months Ago vs. Today
- Volkswagen, Where Are You Going?
- Volkswagen Software & EV Transition — Updates From Execs
- What’s Up With Volkswagen Software?
All images courtesy Volkswagen AG.