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Opel marketing set for overhaul

FRANKFURT - Opel Chairman Carl-Peter Forster is expected to change his top sales and marketing team as part of a plan to end the automaker's heavy dependence on incentives.

Andrej Barcak, board member for sales and services since May 1999, likely will be replaced at the next regular supervisory board meeting in early November, according to senior executive sources. His successor will come from outside, the sources say.

"It will be a high-profile sales and marketing manager," one company insider said.

Later in the year, a board position for aftermarket sales, parts and new business areas is expected to be created. A manager from outside GM also will fill that job, sources say.

While unveiling the company's Project Olympia turnaround plan last month, Forster said Opel must end the "lethal spiral of pushing cars in the market with huge incentives."

Because of Barcak's heavy reliance on incentives - he is nicknamed "metal mover" inside Opel - critics say the Romania-born former Czechoslovakia export minister is not the person to lead the new strategy.

Barcak, 54, is well liked by dealers, but detractors say expensive trade-in offers for used cars, highly subsidized finance and lease deals and huge end-of-life-cycle sales support programs have been too costly for Opel.

One analyst said Opel is in danger of falling into an incentive vortex in which increased incentives hurt the brand, which in turn hurts residual values, which triggers more discounting.

"Astra sales have begun to slow," said Mark Fulthorpe, director of forecast services for the consulting firm CSM Worldwide in England. "The new Corsa is slowing, and it never hit the point they wanted it to reach. And those are their two newest products. God knows what they are throwing at Vectra and Omega."

Forster also is focusing on dealer profitability. Opel has 1,000 franchise holders in Germany with 2,300 outlets. In the future, sources say, he plans to have 500 dealer partners with 1,800 outlets, thus increasing the average size of each dealer.

With the restructuring, Opel wants to reduce intrabrand competition. Company executives say Opel dealers often are undercut by nearby Opel stores with higher rebates.

Dealers will be introduced to the new marketing strategy and a new Europe-wide advertising campaign, created by McCann-Erickson in Frankfurt, soon after the Frankfurt show. A new Opel corporate identity will be introduced to the dealer network after the restructuring.

Staff Reporter Mark Rechtin contributed to this report

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