CEO: Opel's 'in attack mode,' will survive
Neumann cites 10-yr. plan, Detroit support
Karl-Thomas Neumann: “I hope today you have not seen the typical Opel guy who looks at his shoes and is really disappointed and complaining. We are in attack mode. We want to tell everybody inside and outside that we can make it.”
GENEVA -- New Opel CEO Karl-Thomas Neumann says he can revive the beleaguered European brand and stem its persistent losses -- with plenty of help from parent company General Motors.
"We have a new leadership team, a 10-year plan ... and we have financing from GM in Detroit that not only allows us to cover our losses but also to invest billions of euros into new product," Neumann told reporters at the Geneva auto show.
Neumann took over at Opel on March 1. He said he would not have taken the job if he didn't believe GM executives were committed to investing in Opel's turnaround.
GM CEO Dan Akerson has said many times that he believes GM can revive Opel and that there are no plans to sell the subsidiary -- which the company nearly did in 2009. Still, rumors persist about whether GM might unload Opel or fold it into a joint venture with another automaker such as PSA Peugeot Citroen or Fiat.
Neumann, 51, most recently was head of Volkswagen China and was CEO of supplier Continental AG. He replaced GM Vice Chairman Steve Girsky, who had been interim CEO. With Neumann's arrival and a freshly signed deal with its German unions, GM has put key building blocks of Opel's restructuring in place.
Neumann said he has three priorities:
1. Introduce new vehicles. Opel is launching 23 new or redesigned models by 2016. Recent entrants include the Adam minicar and the Opel Mokka, which shares a platform with the Buick Encore.
2. Cut costs. Last month, after lengthy talks, GM reached a deal with labor leaders that Girsky said is important to the company's efforts to cut costs and reduce unused capacity, particularly in Germany.
Unions agreed to the closure of GM's plant in Bochum, Germany, at the end of 2016. About 3,300 employees work at the plant, where the Zafira minivan is made. Labor leaders also agreed to a wage freeze through 2016 for more than 20,000 of Opel's German workers. In exchange, GM agreed there would be no firings during that time.
Girsky wouldn't say how much the new deal will save but said it will help GM reach its goal of achieving breakeven in Europe by mid-decade.
3. Change Opel's culture. Neumann implied the company has been plagued by complacency.
"I hope today you have not seen the typical Opel guy who looks at his shoes and is really disappointed and complaining," he said. "We are in attack mode. We want to tell everybody inside and outside that we can make it."
GM Europe lost $1.8 billion last year and more than $18 billion since the late 1990s. Last year GM eliminated 2,600 salaried and hourly jobs in Europe while cutting about $300 million in annual fixed costs. Girsky has vowed to extract another $500 million a year in savings by 2015.
Neumann and Girsky said they expect overall European auto sales to decline this year but predicted Opel will retain its market share and lose slightly less money than it did in 2012. Last year Opel brand sales slid 16 percent to 816,000, worse than the 8 percent decline in overall sales in European Union countries.
Neumann also will be a member of GM's executive committee, a team of about a dozen of Akerson's direct reports.
"We have a full alignment with Detroit," Neumann said. "I'm sitting at the table where the decisions are taken. That, in conjunction with the plan and our new product -- I'm convinced it's doable."
You can reach Mike Colias at firstname.lastname@example.org.