Ford Motor Co.'s hiring of a flamboyant luxury-car czar will ripple through much of the company on both sides of the Atlantic.
Ford CEO Jac Nasser successfully courted Wolfgang Reitzle, 50, by creating a new group vice presidency responsible for Lincoln, Volvo, Jaguar and Aston Martin. Reitzle resigned last month from the No. 2 job at BMW AG.
Reitzle's arrival will:
Place Lincoln, which until now has been a very American brand, under an engineering-minded executive steeped in BMW-style ride and handling.
Help Ford weave Volvo Cars into its global engineering, manufacturing and marketing operations.
Energize Ford's ambitious efforts to quadruple worldwide sales of luxury cars, from 250,000 to 1 million units annually.
Create an unclear reporting relationship between Reitzle and Ford's highly regarded top product-development executive in Dearborn, Richard Parry-Jones.
Give Ford a highly regarded product planner, akin to Robert Lutz of the former Chrysler Corp., capable of creating excitement about the company's vehicles.
Reitzle, for example, was lauded for his development of the 1986 BMW 7 series, called the 'world's greatest sedan' at the time.
As group vice president of a newly created Premier Automotive Group at Ford, Reitzle becomes chairman of Jaguar Cars Ltd. and Volvo Cars. His job also includes 'lead responsibility' for Aston Martin and Lincoln, Ford said Friday, March 19, in announcing the appointment.
Ford did not provide specifics on Reitzle's oversight of Lincoln nor define 'lead responsibility.' Nor did the company describe the extent of his authority in product development vs. that of Parry-Jones.
Lincoln Mercury President Mark Hutchins now will report to two people, Reitzle and Robert Rewey, Ford group vice president of marketing, sales and service.
Lincoln wants to create an American brand of luxury vehicles sought around the world.
For example, the 2000 Lincoln LS, which will be sold in 30 countries, is designed to compete with European and Asian luxury makes as well as Cadillac.
Reitzle, who will be based in England, reports to Nasser.
One of the biggest questions raised by Reitzle's appointment is his role in determining the characteristics of Ford's luxury cars and trucks.
Currently, that is a major responsibility of Nasser-appointee Parry-Jones, group vice president of product development and quality.
Ford, however, downplays any potential rivalry. 'This isn't about a division of labor. It is about transforming Ford Motor Co.,' said Ford spokeswoman Francine Romine-MacBride. 'Richard Parry-Jones and Rewey will be colleagues of Reitzle and report to Nasser as they do now.'
But Reitzle's product-development talents are sure to be called on as Lincoln works to create vehicles sought after in North America, Europe and Japan. Indeed, growth in Lincoln sales is critical to achieving Nasser's goal of 750,000 luxury sales in 2000 and 1 million units shortly thereafter.
Nor is the flamboyant product executive likely to be left out of discussions on how to revive the car market.
Nasser is intent on injecting cars with distinctive flair.
Reitzle also will further Ford's strategy of sharing global platforms and parts among several brands. For example, Nasser has made it clear he expects the Volvo acquisition eventually to lead to platform sharing. And Lincoln and Jaguar share a new rear-wheel-drive platform today.
As Jaguar chairman, Reitzle replaces Nick Scheele, in charge since 1992.
Scheele has been named senior vice president of Ford of Europe responsible for marketing, sales and service.