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[Herald Interview] Audi Volkswagen steps up to support Korea’s Industry 4.0 drive

Hoping to nurture young professionals, company plans to open cultural space for future mobility in Seoul this year

Determined to restore customer trust and committed to doing so by contributing to society, the head of the Korean arm of Audi Volkswagen said the automaker is on board with the South Korean government’s drive to promote future technologies and is planning to foster young professionals in the area of future mobility.

In an interview with The Korea Herald, Rene Koneberg, a group managing director with Audi Volkswagen Korea, said the company would start providing educational and cultural opportunities for young Koreans this year in the area of future mobility, in keeping with the company’s aim of becoming a responsible corporate citizen here.

“Audi Volkswagen Korea is aware of the efforts made by the Korean government in preparation for Industry 4.0. One of the key sectors of Industry 4.0 would be future mobility,” he said.

“We thought, as a global auto company, we could create social value in Korea by growing future talents and expanding the educational and cultural base for future mobility.”

With its Tomoroad initiative, the company plans to found a cultural platform for future mobility in Seoul this year -- a space where college students and teenagers can get creative and develop their own ideas. For the next three years, Audi Volkswagen Korea will partner with local nonprofit organization Korea Social Investment to promote the kind of value creation needed for Industry 4.0, he said.

Tomoroad, a combination of the words “tomorrow” and “road,” is part of the company’s “Mission 5” strategy, announced in April.

Last year, the company said it would pursue five strategies over the next five years with the aim of improving customer satisfaction, social responsibility and internal efficiency, while acting with integrity and recovering market leadership.

This CSR initiative is not for the present but for the future, Koneberg said. As a global leader in future mobility, the company wishes to provide young Koreans with opportunities to experience the changes of the future by themselves, not by the books, he added.

Rene Koneberg, a group managing director of Audi Volkswagen Korea (Audi Volkswagen Korea)
Rene Koneberg, a group managing director of Audi Volkswagen Korea (Audi Volkswagen Korea)

Looking back over the company’s efforts since its market re-entry last year, Koneberg said the company had “transformed” its internal structure and “successfully launched” vehicles under the Audi and Volkswagen marques.

According to the Korea Automobiles Importers and Distributors Association, Volkswagen sold 15,390 units and Audi sold 12,450 units last year, taking the fourth and sixth spots in the foreign car market. After a two-year hiatus, the German carmaker launched Audi A3, A4 and A6 and Volkswagen Tiguan, Passat and Arteon.

Despite its market re-entry, a series of recall programs and vouchers worth 100 million won ($89,000) given to all Audi and Volkswagen owners here, the German carmaker’s local branch is still dealing with a class-action lawsuit filed by car owners here in 2016.

Koneberg said restoring customer trust is a long-term process, but that the company hopes to become a reliable partner.

“We still have a long way to go and are looking ahead for a better future,” he said. “We are committed to transforming responsibly and transparently, aligned with our new vision of becoming a trusted partner for sustainable future.”

Koneberg came to Korea in 2017 and took over as head of Audi Volkswagen Korea Group when the emissions-cheating scandal swept the foreign car market here, sparking heated criticism from thousands of customers. Before the scandal hit the market, Audi Volkswagen was among the top foreign car brands here in terms of sales. The German executive joined the company in 2000 and has held management posts in the Middle East, China and Hong Kong.

Asked about the possibility of forging additional partnerships with Korean companies to advance the development of future technology, Koneberg gave no direct answer but said Korea was an important market for the carmaker.

Volkswagen announced a large-scale battery supply partnership with SK Innovation, the energy-to-chemical arm of SK Group, last year. Meanwhile, its luxury brand Audi is working with Korean auto giant Hyundai Motor on the mass development of hydrogen-powered vehicles.

Local steelmaker Posco, LG Electronics, LG Chem and Conavis are among the 61 partner companies of Volkswagen Group in the area of future automobile development.

By Cho Chung-un (