New Opel CEO Neumann stands behind rescue plan
GM is counting on new Opel CEO Karl-Thomas Neumann to end losses at the German automaker. Neumann took his new post on Friday.
New Opel CEO Karl-Thomas Neumann is standing behind Opel's restructuring. Neumann has seen the Drive 2022 plan and wants to implement it without major changes, sources close to Opel told Automotive News Europe sister publication Automobilwoche.
Opel was the major contributor to parent General Motors' $1.8 billion operating loss in Europe last year.
GM wants to reach break-even in Europe by 2015/2016 and reduce fixed costs at Opel by about $500 million this year compared with 2012.
An Opel spokesman said this will be achieved through a more thorough integration of financial services provider GMAC into GM, among other measures.
Another key part of Drive 2022 is a new car-pricing structure for Opel. This will stop short of being an across-the-board change in pricing or brand positioning, the spokesman said. At the same time, more than 90 percent utilization of Opel's factories is envisioned by 2022.
This will probably not be feasible without closing vehicle production in Bochum, Germany. As a result, Neumann, who started Friday, wants to persuade employees to grant concessions.
According to the restructuring plan, vehicles sold in Europe will be manufactured in Europe whenever possible. The Mokka small SUV's successor could be built in Eisenach, Germany, or Gliwice, Poland, instead of South Korea, the spokesman said, adding that no final decision has been made. On the other hand, there are "no European localization plans" for the U.S.-built Ampera plug-in hybrid or the South Korean-built Antara medium SUV.
In addition to growth in Russia, the plan's third phase, Opel envisions an increase in the brand's desirability by reaching the top five in customer satisfaction surveys.
Neumann is tough
Neumann is likely to be a tough enforcer of the Drive 22 plan. The 51-year-old electrical engineer does not bend easily, sources say.
As CEO at Continental, Neumann's youthful charm initially helped him with his major shareholder, Maria-Elisabeth Schaeffler. But he defied Schaeffler more than once over the supplier's crushing debt and left in 2009.
Neumann moved to Volkswagen, where he helped create vehicles such as the e-Up and the e-Golf and was seen as a possible successor to CEO Martin Winterkorn.
In 2010 Neumann was named VW's top China executive. But sources say he struggled while toiling far from headquarters. He was blamed for problems with transmission production in China, which his supporters say resulted from decisions made before he came.
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