The head of Volkswagen’s American operations, a central figure in the carmaker’s effort to repair relations with dealers and customers after an emissions scandal, unexpectedly stepped down on Wednesday.
The sudden departure of the executive, Michael Horn, adds to the strategic uncertainty for Volkswagen, particularly in the United States, where sales have been plummeting and dealers have been grumbling.
After being named to the top spot in the United States two years ago, Mr. Horn played a crucial role in rebuilding Volkswagen’s relationship with its dealership network, gaining the support of the sales force on the ground. Car dealers in the United States had long complained about the lack of support they received from the company’s managers in Germany.
The fraud further tested the relationship, with Volkswagen admitting that 11 million diesel cars worldwide contained a so-called cheat device that effectively lowered emissions when the exhaust was being tested. Mr. Horn tried to soothe American dealers, offering to reimburse them for the cost of holding onto diesel cars and providing extra incentives for selling gasoline-powered vehicles.
Now, dealers are wondering about the direction of management. Alan Brown, who is the chairman of the Volkswagen National Dealer Advisory Council and runs two Volkswagen dealerships in Texas, said Mr. Horn’s departure was a serious blow.