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Interview with Karl-Thomas Neumann: The future of Opel

Jens Erbeck
Interview with Karl-Thomas Neumann
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Have you ever asked yourself in the past few weeks whether it only comes to this sale to PSA because you personally simply did not achieve your goals for Opel?

N eumann: No - because I know it wasn't. Without the BREXIT, we would have achieved our goal of generating profits in 2016. This is of course also known at GM and was emphasized several times by Mary Barra. I think it would be pointless to ask such questions. Nobody questions our chosen path, not even PPE. But of course the situation shows that we still have a lot to do. But the path is correct, and we will now go it with self-confidence.

What does that mean in concrete terms?

Neumann: You can see from the cars, especially with the new Insignia, that a lot has happened. Basically, we are doing well in the segments in which we are represented. But we are not yet present in all the important segments. Now there are cars like the Crossland X and the Grandland X, with which we are filling the remaining gaps.

Neumann: Nevertheless, one thing is clear: The upheavals in the automotive industry are so great Requirements so high that they can only be met if you are set up extremely efficiently - and we are not yet everywhere, for example because we are not yet big enough in Europe. Together with PSA we have the chance to get it done.

Why should the renovation of Opel work now - and according to PSA by the Opel management itself - if it hasn't worked so far?

Neumann: From my point of view, it's not as if it didn't work out. But it's not going as fast as we thought.


Neumann: Because in the meantime massive changes have occurred: first Russia, then Brexit. Then there is the question of emissions - we are putting more and more money into cars. The even stronger cooperation with PSA will help us here. We have already developed two cars together in our cooperation with PSA, the combo will be added next year and you can see: These cars are extremely economical. Much of this can be transferred to future vehicles, and then we will be completely different. We really have toget stronger so that something like Brexit doesn't slow us down immediately.

Karl-Thomas Neumann at the press conference in Geneva.
Are you really going to continue as Opel boss?

Neumann: I am very clear that we are building something here that has a future. So it is important for me to stand in front of the employees and show leadership. I've done that so far, and will continue to do so.

How is it going between you and PSA boss Tavares?

Neumann : Very good. Carlos Tavares is a very clear guy with high standards, I like that very much. I think we have a lot of respect for one another. That is why I see a good basis for further cooperation.

Many are now afraid that Opel models will now be cars with purely PSA platforms and technology, and only the design from Opel comes. Right?

Neumann: Well, it was already the case before that our cars were based on global architectures. We developed some of them, some came from GM in the USA. With all these architectures, we have always succeeded in making a real Opel out of it. We also managed that with the new Crossland X SUV, although it has PSA technology underneath. We will continue to do that in the future.

How independently will Opel be able to work?

Neumann: Opel will continue to do so Have our own leadership, our own design, our own development, because that's our value: that we are recognizable as a German brand - and are therefore completely different from French brands. We're not going to look any more alike, because it is precisely the differentiation that sets us apart as brands.

But when it comes to technology, you will have a common kit, right?

Neumann: Sure, but Opel will also pay into this kit. We will continue to develop high-tech features in the future. 'High-tech for everyone' remains our credo. However, it is also in our interest that these technologies are then used in models from Peugeot, Citroen and DSare used. But all of this will be a long process in which we will have models with GM architectures for a few more years and continue to contribute technology for General Motors, but will also obtain it from there.

Apparently - before you bought it from PSA - you had the plan to turn Opel into a purely electric car brand. What will happen to this plan?

Neumann: I do not comment on this speculation. One thing is clear: at some point we will all drive electrically, probably sooner than many believe. It's a huge transformation for automakers; we have to tackle them, otherwise we will lose. That's why it's so important that we have the Ampera-e, an affordable electric car with a long range. And we already have other electric models in the planning stage.

Are you still allowed to use GM's electrical engineering?

Neumann: We may. And not only as long as the Ampera-e is running, but also for the follow-up projects. That is the most important thing about the deal between GM and PSA: The Opel brand is allowed to implement its entire product strategy, as it has long been planned. We bring all models that we have planned.

You will also bring the planned large Opel SUV as a flagship?

Neumann : We are bringing all the planned models, and our second flagship is one of them.

Do you think the purchase price of just 1.3 billion euros for Opel and Vauxhall is reasonable ?

Neumann: I don't want to judge that, but it is obvious that both parties were able to agree on this price. In any case, this is a completely different discussion than in 2009, when the takeover candidate Opel didn't seem so valuable. Incidentally: I am sure that the new partner PSA is primarily interested in growth, not restructuring, i.e. downsizing at Opel.

Will the Opel factories remain received?

Neumann: Our goal is to fill these plants with models and make them more efficient and productive.

And the large development center in Rüsselsheim?

Neumann: Of course, that will be retained. In these times we are happy to have our good engineers. Of course, you have to define which tasks in the PSA network should be carried out from Rüsselsheim. And one day you will certainly need more electric car developers than diesel engineers.

Do you already sense that dealers want to migrate from Opel - to Ford, for example?

Neumann: We don't feel anything at all. The Opel dealers immediately recognized the opportunities and saw how interesting the new models are, which arose from the previous cooperation with PSA.

What opportunities do you see for Opel in China? You were denied this market under GM.

Neumann: I am very cautious about the question of whether a commitment to China would really make sense for Opel. Introducing a new brand there requires a very high investment. The Chinese market is no longer the panacea to cure problems in other markets. For us it's first about making sustainable profit in Europe.

You and Carlos Tavares talk about the new 'European champion' that is now emerging. Isn't that a little naive? Critics tend to see two sick people in Opel and PSA who are now going to bed together.

Neumann: That is a complete misunderstanding of the situation. PSA has long since ceased to be ill, but has recovered very strongly and presented a great result, especially for 2016. And we are clearly on the mend. A strong and a convalescent can now become two strong.


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