Ford of Europe boss Martin Sander leaves to join Volkswagen

Ford Martin Sander
Ford Martin Sander

Ford of Europe boss Martin Sander has left the company to become sales and marketing boss at Volkswagen.

Sander joined Ford of Europe as general manager for passenger vehicles in January 2022, having spent 25 years at the Volkswagen Group, most recently in senior roles for Audi - latterly as the premium brand's UK managing director.

He will now return to the German giant, this time as board member for sales, marketing and aftersales at Volkswagen Passenger Cars.

Imelda Labbé, who currently holds the position, is leaving for personal reasons.

In his position as chairman of Ford's Model E electrification division in Europe, Sander has been instrumental in shaping the American brand's transition to an all-electric line-up.


His departure comes just days after Ford began producing its crucial new Explorer EV at the ex-Fiesta factory in Cologne and shortly before it's due to reveal a closely related 'sports crossover' to be built on the same line (expected to be called the Capri).

Sander has also overseen development of the upcoming Puma Gen-E, an electric version of Ford's best-selling compact crossover, and the new E-Transit Custom van, the crucial EV variant of on one of Europe's most popular vehicles.

Ford said: "Martin has been instrumental in leading the introduction of Ford’s first European-built electric vehicle, the new electric Explorer, followed by a second EV that Ford will be introducing this summer.

"We would like to thank Martin for his leadership and contributions to Ford’s business over the past two years."

Volkswagen CEO Thomas Schäfer hailed Sander as "an experienced sales expert" and "a proven leader", adding that he will "provide new momentum to sustainably position the Volkswagen brand's sales organisation for the future".

Schäfer noted that Labbé (who replaced Klaus Zellmer when he became Skoda CEO in 2022) has been pivotal in increasing Volkswagen's market share during her two years in the role, as well as giving "Volkswagen back its renowned brand image in advertising".

As well as overseeing Ford's transition to an EV line-up, Sander was a driving force in its shift away from mass-market, value-focused models like the Fiesta and Focus to higher-margin premium models like the Explorer, which is around twice the price of the ICE supermini it replaces.

In a wide-reaching interview with Autocar shortly after he took the top job at Ford, Sander explained the rationale behind not replacing the 50-year-old Fiesta: “We aren’t going to enter a segment just to be there, just because of competitors who have a totally different industrial footprint and totally different structures.

“We’re going to be much more picky when it comes to deciding where we’re going to play and where we want to be in order to build a profitable business. Because at the end of the day, we’re a business. We have to make sure that we make money.”

Sander also pledged to emphasise Ford's heritage as a point of differentiation with a new US-focused design language: "The freedom, the entrepreneurship: all these American values in general resonate with European consumers.

"From a technical and product substance perspective, I’m deeply convinced that we have everything we need in order to compete in the future. But this isn’t enough. We need this emotional appeal, this huge value this brand can bring to the market, where possibly we have a little bit punched under our weight and can improve the way consumers perceive our brand significantly."