Troubled German automaker Opel, the perennially loss-making unit of General Motors, on Thursday picked a former top Volkswagen executive, Karl-Thomas Neumann, to steer it back to profit.
“The supervisory board of Adam Opel today named Karl-Thomas Neumann, 51, as chief executive with effect from March 1, this year,” the carmaker said in a statement.
Neumann was also appointed head of GM Europe, as well as vice president of GM and a member of GM’s executive committee, it added.
“He will play a key role in GM’s global management,” the statement said.
An interim chief, Thomas Sedran, has been in Opel’s driving seat since Karl-Friedrich Stracke quit as chief executive last July.
The German carmaker has been posting losses for years as it has been slow to react to the crisis in demand for cars in Europe.
And US parent GM has ordered Opel’s management to prescribe draconian cost-cutting as it cranks up intense pressure on all of its European subsidiaries to get back on the road to profit by 2015.
Management is currently locked in a fierce battle with unions over the future of Opel’s key Bochum plant in west Germany, where production of the Zafira model is scheduled to be phased out by 2016.
Neumann said he is fully aware of the Herculean task facing him.
It will be “very demanding. But I’m convinced that we can achieve a turnaround, together with the management team and with our employees,” said the father of two, who as a seasoned marathon-runner will need all the stamina he can muster.
But Neumann insisted he was “looking forward to heading a company which has such a rich tradition in the German automobile sector and has such a strong product portfolio.”
Born in Twistringen in Lower Saxony, Neumann studied electrical engineering at the universities of Dortmund and Duisburg.
After initially working as a research engineer, he soon switched to the auto industry where he went on to develop an impressive pedigree.
He most recently worked for Europe’s biggest carmaker Volkswagen, where he was head of VW’s Chinese operations between September 2010 and August last year.
Prior to that Neumann was board member of auto parts maker Continental from 2004 until 2009 and became its chief executive for a short period from August 2008 until September 2009.
People who have previously worked under him describe him as “team player with no airs and graces.”
His time at Continental was not always easy, however.
After the tyre-maker acquired the auto parts specialist Schaeffler in 2008, he was promoted to the position of chief executive. But Neumann quickly fell into disgrace as the economic crisis steered the group into loss and his relations with Schaeffler took a turn for the worse.
Nevertheless, a former close colleague at Continental has fond memories of him, describing Neumann as “very pleasant, very friendly and open-minded.”
Opel supervisory board chief Steve Girsky said Neumann “has intensive knowledge of the automobile industry. He has proven that he can achieve profitable growth and a turnaround.
“He will greatly strengthen our management team and will steer the company to one of the most successful turnaround stories in the history of the European automobile industry,” Girsky said.
GM chief executive Dan Akerson said: “Opel/Vauxhall are key to the global success of General Motors.”
Neumann’s appointment “will ensure that we can continue along the road to profitability and growth in Europe with the best possible management team,” Akerson said.