At a brand not known for executive longevity, Saad Chehab’s tenure as head of marketing for Volkswagen of America was shorter than most — nine months.
Chehab, 53, was replaced last week by the VW brand’s U.S. sales and marketing executive vice president, Duncan Movassaghi, 45. He will assume Chehab’s duties on an interim basis until a new VW brand marketing chief is named. Volkswagen did not give a reason for Chehab’s departure.
Not counting those who held the post as an interim assignment, Chehab was the fifth person in the job in less than 10 years. He had replaced Jim Zabel, whose tenure lasted less than two years. Zabel had replaced Vinay Shahani, who left Volkswagen for Toyota after steering the German brand through the heart of its diesel emissions crisis. Shahani had succeeded Tim Mahoney, who departed Volkswagen for General Motors in 2013. Mahoney had succeeded Tim Ellis in 2011.
Chehab’s role had been confined to North America, and Volkswagen confirmed his departure was unrelated to a controversy last week over a Volkswagen ad with racial discrimination overtones that ran in some European markets before being pulled.
Chehab, a native of Lebanon, had been vice president, marketing and communications for Kia Motors America from April 2017 to June 2019. He joined VW in August, where he reported directly to Volkswagen Group of America CEO Scott Keogh. The three-time Automotive News All-Star — he won in 2011 and 2012 for his work with Chrysler and again in 2019 for work with Kia — had been tasked to distance Volkswagen from its 2015 diesel emissions scandal, to prepare the way for a lineup of electric vehicles and to boost sales consideration and market share.
Keogh told Automotive News last month that VW had been making inroads with consumers, roughly halving the percentage of those who rejected the brand outright because of the emissions scandal, and that its sales had been growing before the COVID-19 pandemic in the U.S. The brand plans to launch the first of its family of battery-electric vehicles in the U.S. late this year with the ID4 compact crossover.
Chehab has a rich history of automotive marketing success, especially with struggling brands. He was widely credited as the creative force behind Chrysler’s highly successful Super Bowl commercials “Born of Fire” in 2011 and “Halftime in America” in 2012.
As head of the Chrysler brand, Chehab embraced the “Imported from Detroit” tag line from the “Born of Fire” commercial and used it to promote special editions of Chrysler vehicles. The phrase helped redefine the brand, repositioning it as a gritty domestic underdog, and helped increase sales.