Digitization: revolutions entail unrest

75-Year old Detlef Wittig is a visionary. With his future-oriented approach and impressive experience as a manager, he provides both insights into mobility and perspectives on the world of work in an interview with students of the Ostfalia University of Applied Sciences.

Detlef Wittig in interview. He was sales director of the VW Group until 2009. Photo: Kurt Ringlebe

Detlef Wittig in interview. He was sales director of the VW Group until 2009. Photo: Kurt Ringlebe

Mr. Wittig, to what extent has digitalization changed the value creation process for automotive manufacturers?
Digitalization has led to more rapid development in the industry, new solutions, shorter product cycles and closer interaction with customers. Industry 4.0 technologies enable vehicles to be built more efficiently, using less resources and with a higher degree of individuality. Indirectly, new smart data technologies allow us to craft leaner and more efficient working processes. Electronics and software solutions account for a large proportion of modern automotive value creation. New digital business areas are emerging. Just a few years ago, we had maybe three or four thousand IT specialists in total. Most of these were focused on business processes. Nowadays, VW is one of Germany’s biggest IT companies, with almost eleven thousand IT professionals, and another thousand positions have been created for programmers, data scientists and artificial intelligence experts.

What new directions do you see automotive sales taking?
The current turmoil of the automotive industry and changes in the market’s demands for service and services present a huge opportunity. My colleagues at VW will play a leading role in shaping the revolution. They will get even quicker and more decisive. A decentralized structure, for example, means that far more decisions can be made regionally, and are no longer prescribed by HQ in Wolfsburg.

Do you believe that the dealership model is losing relevance?
No, the opposite in fact. Dealerships will continue to be the pillars that hold up the VW business model. It is their proximity to the customer, variety of customer advice and support offerings, their ­service products and the ability to test drive that allow us to guarantee customer satisfaction, and with it our long-term success.

Does the Internet not replace physical dealerships, with its configuration tools, blogs and forums?
The Internet supplements our brick-and-mortar dealerships, making them more efficient and freeing up resources for new services. There will be new dealership and service formats in the future. These new formats will be customer- and goal-­oriented, flexible, they will optimize costs for dealers, and promote the synergy in the market space.

Which developments in automotive sales unsettle you? Which developments make you look at the future with optimism?
Revolutions are always tied with unrest and anxiety about the future. This time around, the revolution is more complex and technical, which means a high amount of additional explanation is required. Successful implementation is therefore only possible through transparent, respectful and trust-inspiring discussions between the various stakeholders in the multi-stage environment of automotive sales. Digitalization is technical, technocratic, and stands in stark contrast to the “warmth” of human relationships and client or partner relationships. When tackled correctly, with the focus firmly on customers and partner retention, digitalization can lead to a new, faster, more efficient future automotive market.

Detlef Wittig was sales director of the VW Group until 2009, prior to which he held roles such as Chief Executive of VW-owned brand Škoda. Today, the 75-year old observes and comments on how the automotive industry is to deal with the growing challenges of digitalization.

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