Berwanger: New head of plant
Mitsubishi Motors Corp. has entrusted its North American plant to another Ford man. Jerry Berwanger, who spent 27 years with Ford Motor Co. before moving to Mitsubishi five years ago, replaces Rich Gilligan as head of Mitsubishi's Normal, Ill., plant. Gilligan became CEO of Mitsubishi Motors North America in January when former CEO Finbarr O'Neill resigned. Both Berwanger and Gilligan were lifelong Ford managers. Both had worked at the company's plants in Chicago and Kansas City, Mo. Both also now share the distinction of taking over Mitsubishi's U.S. auto plant at a time of low sales, job eliminations and an uncertain future. Maximizing flexibility
Berwanger's challenge: Letting one of North America's most flexible auto plants do what it was designed to do -- produce multiple models on the same line at volumes as high as 320,000 cars and light trucks a year. Last year, as Mitsubishi demand evaporated, Normal built just 113,387 vehicles. "We can make a profit at the level we're at right now," Berwanger says. "But we have the potential of making so much more when we have the volume. "When you look at the capability this place has and see that it's not being used, it's just criminal." Gilligan led the operation's turnaround in 1999, when he established quality assurance programs, restored profitability and oversaw the creation of a U.S.-designed product plan. Berwanger, whom Gilligan recruited from Ford to help with that effort, was senior vice president of quality and head of manufacturing. Remembering layoffs
As plant executive vice president and COO, Berwanger has another mission as well: recalling the 900 second-shift workers laid off last September. "Not a day goes by that I don't think about that second shift," says Berwanger, 56. "I stood at the door and said goodbye to them as they left for the last time." Mitsubishi's outlook is serious. The automaker must rebuild U.S. market share, mostly by relying on the vehicles built in Normal. A redesigned Eclipse coupe starts mass production this month, with a plan to have two in every Mitsubishi dealership by Memorial Day weekend. The redesigned Eclipse Spyder convertible begins production in January.
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