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Opel appoints Sedran as deputy chairman

In the hot seat: Thomas Sedran takes the reins at Opel until a replacement for former CEO Karl-Friedrich Stracke is recruited.

Former consultant Thomas Sedran steps up until Opel finds Stracke replacement

Opel logo18 Jul 2012

UPDATED: 19/07/2012OPEL has announced that board member for operations, business development and corporate strategies Thomas Sedran will step in as deputy chairman until a permanent replacement is found for former CEO Karl-Friedrich Stracke, who stepped down last week.

General Motors' struggling European subsidiary has also hired a Volkswagen turnaround specialist, Michael Lohscheller, as its incoming chief financial officer, and promoted global vehicle line executive for compact cars, Michael Ableson, as its head of research and development.

Mr Sedran has held his current board position since it was created in April and worked previously as a management consultant to the automotive industry at the Munich office of global business consultancy AlixPartners.

GM vice-chairman and chairman of the Opel supervisory board Steve Girsky stepped in as acting head of GM Europe following Mr Stracke’s unexpected departure to take on “special assignments” reporting directly to GM chairman and CEO Dan Akerson.

Mr Girsky said Opel will “further reduce bureaucracy and continue to challenge the corporate culture” as part of its plan to return to profitability, which was signed off last month.

 center imageLeft: Incoming chief financial officer Michael Lohscheller.

Some of the actions included reductions to the cost of building cars, an expansion of alliances beyond GM’s recent tie-up with PSA Peugeot Citroen and potentially running factories closer to capacity by building Chevrolets.

A back-track from Opel’s premium pricing strategy has also been announced as a way of boosting sales volume.

Deputy supervisory board chairman and head of the Opel works council Wolfgang Schaefer-Klug said Mr Girsky’s team “stands for a change that Opel urgently needs: leaner management structures, transparency, accountability and enforcement capability”.

“This will put Opel back on a growth path,” he said.

Replacing Mark James from September 1, whose “professional future will be announced later”, Opel’s incoming CFO Michael Lohscheller is currently executive vice-president and CFO at Volkswagen Group of America.

According to Opel, he has led a successful turnaround over the past four years, “driving significant growth and profit improvement” with responsibility for finance, IT, purchasing and logistics.

Volkswagen America, meanwhile, has in turn promoted Hardy Brennecke to the CFO position, effective August 1 and reporting directly to CEO Jonathan Browning.

The board position for Opel’s incoming R&D chief Michael Ableson will also start on September 1, but he immediately becomes GM Europe’s vice-president of engineering, replacing Rita Forst.

Most recently, Mr Ableson’s responsibilities have included global engineering of compact vehicles such as the Opel/Vauxhall Astra and GTC. He has worked for GM for more than 25 years and previously led the global advanced vehicle development division.

Loss-making Opel has cost parent General Motors $US14 billion over the past 12 years and its recovery has been hampered by the tough economic conditions in its European home market.

However, opening up to export markets like Australia, where it will launch in September, is unlikely to provide the volume boost Opel needs to turn itself around.

Opel collaborator PSA Peugeot Citroen has also fallen foul of the European crisis and recently announced it will lay off 8000 workers as it prepares to announce a €700 million ($A842 million) net loss for the first six months of the year.

Italian car-maker Fiat is also struggling but is being propped up by a resurgent Chrysler, of which it is a majority shareholder.

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