New cars, new faces in Paris

It's not only the cars that are having big debuts at the Paris auto show this year. Several executives will take to the stage for the first time in leadership roles. All of them have taken on big tasks.

New Ford of Europe CEO Stephen Odell must reverse a post-scrappage sales decline in Europe that could threaten the division's profitability. Unlike General Motors Co.'s Opel/Vauxhall unit, Ford's European operations are steadily profitable, but its new-car sales in the EU fell 21 percent in August following a 27 percent drop the month before.

Odell, 55, was previously head of Volvo when it was owned by Ford. Stefan Jacoby, his successor at the Swedish automaker, is another newcomer in a CEO role at the show. Jacoby quit as boss of Volkswagen's North American operations to move to Volvo, which is now owned by China's Geely.

Geely may be China's biggest private carmaker, but it doesn't have the long industry experience and expertise that Volvo could call on from Ford.

Jacoby, 52, has a job on his hands achieving his aim of preserving what he calls Volvo's "special status" as the industry leader in vehicle safety and innovation."

Debuting at Daimler's Smart micocar division is Annette Winkler, new head of the unit. Winkler, 50, is the first woman to head a brand at the German automaker.

Her major task will be to make sure the reborn Smart ForFour, which will come to market in three years underpinned by Renault technogoly, isn't a disaster like the previous four-seater, which was killed because of poor sales.

Porsche's new CEO, Matthias Mueller, will appear for the first time in that role at an auto show.

Mueller, 57, is Volkswagen's former chief strategist and is a close ally of VW CEO Martin Winterkorn. His challenge is to make sure that VW's plan to integrate Porsche as its 10th brand succeeds and doesn't alienate the proud work force at the sports car maker or dilute Porsche's singular identity.

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