By DAVID McHUGH, Associated Press
FRANKFURT, Germany (AP) — The shake-up at General Motors' Opel subsidiary in Europe gathered speed Wednesday as two more top executives left their posts.
Opel announced Wednesday that Chief Financial Officer Mark James will be replaced by Michael Lohscheller, until now CFO of Volkswagen's US business.
Meanwhile, research and development head Rita Forst is also resigning from her post, to be taken over by another Opel executive, Michael Ableson.
The changes follow the sudden resignation last week of Opel chief executive Karl-Friedrich Stracke just two weeks after he presented a turnaround plan. That move was taken as a sign of GM's impatience with the effort to return lossmaking Opel to profit.
Steve Girsky, chairman of Opel's board of directors and the acting head of GM Europe, said that the new executives "will further accelerate the plan to revitalize Opel."
The news comes a day after the company said restructuring expert Thomas Sedran, Opel's top strategy executive, would take over Stracke's post at Opel on a temporary basis while the company looks for a successor.
Stracke had also been head of GM Europe, but that post has gone for now to Girsky as the Detroit-based GM headquarters takes closer control of the European business. Girsky is also deputy chairman of the General Motors Co. board of directors.
New CFO Lohscheller, 43, has been executive vice-president and CFO at Volkswagen Group of America. Opel said he had led a successful turnaround there over the past four years. He has also worked at Daimler AG and Mitsubish Motors Europe. The company did not specify where outgoing CFO James was going and said only that "details about his professional future will be announced at a future time."
New research and development head Ableson, 50, has been an executive focusing on compact cars at the company's Ruesselsheim base. The company said Forst, a GM veteran who started with Opel in 1977, had resigned her position on the company's management board but did not further specify her plans.
Under Stracke, the company had developed a plan to push Opel back toward profitability that was approved on June 28 by the Opel board of directors. It included plans for new models in segments where the company does not have offerings and developing sales in emerging markets, as well as seeking cost savings through an alliance with France Citroen Peugeot PSA.
Yet many important measures were to take years. The company has been in talks with employee representatives about a deal to guarantee jobs in Germany through 2016, meaning plant closings to optimize the use of production facilities would have to wait several years. A platform — the basic mechanical structure for a car — shared with Peugeot Citroen to spread costs will not appear until 2016.
Recent statements by acting GM Europe head Girsky, including his comment today, indicate the company wants to speed things up.
Meanwhile, European demand for mass-market cars like the ones Opel builds continues to weaken as consumers are cautious in countries such as Spain and Italy, where unemployment is high and government finances are shaky. The market is also very competitive.
Peugeot announced last week it is cutting 8,000 jobs. Italy's Fiat SpA saw sales drop 26 percent in the first quarter in Europe while Ford Motor Co. has warned second-quarter earnings will be lower than a year ago in part because of losses in Europe.
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