Reitzle: I’m not going anywhere

LONDON — Although many of the projects launched by deposed Ford Motor Co. CEO Jacques Nasser are under scrutiny, the Premier Automotive Group collection of luxury car companies is expected to continue to operate much the same.

For now.

But Premier Automotive Group’s future depends in large measure on the unit’s driven, passionate chairman, Wolfgang Reitzle, staying in harness, analysts and industry executives say.

Nasser hired Reitzle, 52, in April 1999 and created Premier Automotive Group to house him. It grouped Volvo, Jaguar, Lincoln and Aston Martin. Land Rover was added after Ford acquired it from BMW.

The first reaction of many in Europe to last week’s boardroom upheaval was that Premier would be dismantled and Reitzle would leave.

But the former BMW executive insists that won’t happen.

“Yes, I was hired by Jacques Nasser. And I understand that when a CEO goes, everyone says, ‘Oh wow, how will people close to that person be affected?’ But I’m extremely relaxed. I was loyal to the CEO, and that will not change,” Reitzle said.

All bets are off

Reitzle said Premier Automotive Group has a valid business case regardless of who is boss at Ford.

“(PAG) will not be less important than before — in fact the opposite. We will not be changing a convincing plan,” Reitzle said.

But Ford COO Nick Scheele has warned that he is looking at every facet of the company’s operations for possible streamlining or elimination. “There is nothing that is not on the table,” he said.

Another Ford executive who asked to remain anonymous said Premier Automotive Group’s privileged position has stirred resentments through the company.

Austerity crackdown

“We do not expect anything to happen immediately, but there is a view within Ford of Europe that perhaps too much money and executive time has been concentrated on PAG,” said the executive.

In the austerity crackdown, bean counters are likely to ask if Premier Automotive Group needs headquarters in London and Irvine, Calif., as well as a support office in New Jersey. Or if Reitzle needs to travel by private jet. Or if the next Jaguar XJ sedan needs a diesel engine to be competitive in Europe.

The money needed to fund the upcoming Volvo product deluge, lift Land Rover quality and turn Jaguar into the next BMW also could be targeted in the current cost-cutting regime, one analyst says. That could drive Reitzle out of the fold.

“Wolfgang is very good at the difficulty of product,” says London analyst Charles Moss. “It’s good to have a genius, so he can badger for a new platform or better engine. But is Ford willing to make the sacrifices necessary to have someone like him?” Coincidental with the Dearborn shakeup has been a change in the structure of Premier Automotive Group.

The three British marques — Jaguar, Land Rover and Aston Martin — have been united under one operating committee.

Although technically not a merger, many of their corporate strategies will be coordinated under the guidance of Bob Dover, Land Rover chairman and a former Jaguar executive.

Jonathan Browning, 42, Jaguar Cars managing director, resigned late last week because of the Premier Automotive Group changes, according to a source.

Browning’s post will be taken by Mike Beasley, 58, Jaguar’s executive director for engineering and manufacturing.

Automotive News Europe Editor Richard Johnson and Correspondent Chris Wright contributed to this report

You can reach Mark Rechtin at mrechtin@crain.com

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