RüSSELSHEIM, Germany -- Opel's new chief financial officer is a General Motors veteran known for being actively involved in product decisions.
Bernhard Lothschütz, 61, took over from Walter Borst on April 1 and is determined to make Opel an industry benchmark in material costs. That's something he achieved as CFO at GM's Holden subsidiary in Australia, his previous assignment.
Borst moved to the USA in February to take over as corporate treasurer of General Motors. Starting in 1996, Lothschütz worked on driving down material costs at Holden until they were even, he said, with Toyota and ahead of Ford.
At Holden, Lothschütz had the advantage of relatively low development and engineering costs. The company's model line mostly consists of adapted Opel vehicles, making it possible to source many parts in-house. At Opel, the situation is much more complex.
"I see the role of finance as much broader than pure accounting, but to rather pro-actively identify key uncertainties facing the business and to get closely involved in operational decision-making processes," Lothschütz said.
He said the finance department should serve as a central benchmark agency. He said his job is to achieve competitive levels in production cost, engineering productivity and investment efficiency.
"Of course, we would not support a product decision if the business case is not sound," Lothschütz said. "But as we are getting involved in product decisions at a very early stage, so we can creatively steer promising projects into a financially viable direction."
His main focus will be on material costs, an area where Opel lags far behind the industry leader.
"We must bring material cost down," Lothschütz said. "But we will make sure there's no lowering of quality, and no downgrading in customer value. We are looking for economy of scale effects for quality parts, not reduced functions or simply cheaper parts."
Lothschütz said he will continue to enforce Opel's Olympia turnaround project, which is focused on finding synergies inside the GM group and with suppliers and through purchasing and powertrain joint ventures with Fiat.
Lothschütz, who started his GM career in 1966 at Opel's factory in Kaiserslautern, said he also plans push for improved productivity. Most in need of improvement is Opel's Astra and Zafira factory in Bochum.
Lothschütz said the outdated, two-story production process in Bochum will be eliminated following a major investment for renovation to prepare for the new Astra model, which will debut at the Frankfurt auto show in September.