The changes Ford Motor Co. announced Friday won't disrupt the mid-decade financial goal set for its luxury brands to account for 33 percent of the automaker's profits.
That was the message from Ford Motor's top management after the expected departure of Wolfgang Reitzle, head of the automaker's Premier Automotive Group, and the selection of Mazda Motor Co. CEO Mark Fields to replace him.
Management changes will not derail the company's sweeping restructuring plan, which aims to achieve a $7 billion pre-tax profit by mid-decade, the automaker said. Ford Motor lost $5.45 billion last year, and has had four consecutive losing quarters. The plan relies heavily on the Premier brands - Aston Martin, Jaguar, Land Rover and Volvo - to deliver profits.
Lincoln and Mercury will be removed from the Premier umbrella and join the company's North American Consumer Business unit, the automaker said Friday. But COO Nick Scheele and CEO Bill Ford said Lincoln is still expected to contribute to the 33 percent luxury brand goal.
"The targets we've committed to externally haven't changed at all," Bill Ford said. "This is no deviation from the plan."
Topping the changes announced Friday was the appointment of Fields, 41, as head of Premier Automotive Group. Fields, who has led a turnaround at Mazda, will run Premier from London starting July 1.
Reitzle, who will become the CEO at German engineering and gas firm Linde AG, leaves his position as Premier boss May 1. He will retain ties to the automaker as a consultant on product, design and marketing.
Industry insiders said Reitzle had been lobbying to be named vice chairman for global product development at Ford Motor. But Bill Ford said Reitzle didn't ask him for a role as product czar. "He wanted to become a CEO, and a CEO in Germany," said Bill Ford. "This position at Linde gives him that."
Reitzle's deal with Ford Motor prohibits him from working for another automaker as long as he is a consultant to the company. The length of this contract was not revealed. He sacrificed a $5 million bonus that he would have received had he remained at Ford Motor through 2005.
"Wolfgang Reitzle's departure is unfortunate news, but a typical development in a restructuring company," industry analyst John Casesa of Merrill Lynch said in a research note, which added the division could be "handicapped" without him.
"We fully expect that it will remain tough sledding for Ford's management team through the balance of the year as additional defections are possible, market share likely falls further and financial results remain unsatisfactory."
David Bradley, an industry analyst at JP Morgan Chase, said Reitzle's decision to join Linde should not be seen as negative for Ford or its corporate image.
"I personally don't think it makes a hill of beans of difference," he said.
"Premier Auto isn't a brand," he added. "Nobody buys a Premier Auto. They buy a Volvo, a Land Rover, an Aston Martin, or a Jaguar, and they (Ford) have got good management teams in place at each of those brands."
Fields, meanwhile, continues his ascent at Ford Motor. Even his most die-hard critics were silenced last week when Mazda, after some six years of Ford Motor-led restructuring, forecast the biggest year-on-year turnaround in its 82-year history.
Mazda, which is one-third owned by Ford Motor, raised its group net profit forecast for the year ended in March by 554 percent from a November estimate to 8.5 billion yen, ($65.41 million), helped by cost cuts and a weak yen.
That compares with a net loss of 155.24 billion yen ($1.18 billion) in the previous business year.
A new brand identity for Mazda vehicles, a clever "Zoom-zoom" marketing campaign and a warm reception for new cars such as the Mazda 6 and the RX-8 have fanned expectations of a product-led recovery for the company.
"The Ford Group is viewing his two and half years at Mazda as a rollicking success," said Stephen Usher, auto analyst at J.P. Morgan.
Other personnel changes Ford Motor announced Friday:
contributed to this report.