PAUL MCVEIGH

Barra's promotion to GM CEO welcomed in Germany

Paul McVeigh is managing editor at Automotive News Europe.Paul McVeigh is managing editor at Automotive News Europe.
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The appointment of Mary Barra as General Motors' next CEO has been welcomed in Germany, home of the automaker's struggling Opel unit.

"It's a new beginning," Ferdinand Dudenhoeffer, director of the Center for Automotive Research at the University of Duisburg-Essen, told Automotive News Europe.

Stefan Bratzel, who heads the Center of Automotive Management at the University of Applied Sciences in Bergisch Gladbach, was equally enthusiatic. "As an engineer, Barra will bring a different focus than her predecessors who focused on cutting costs and short-term results. That can only help Opel," he said.

GM's relationship with Opel has been fractious in the past but Barra has been getting to know the brand better as a member of Opel's supervisory board since February 2012. The board oversees Opel's management including CEO Karl-Thomas Neumann, who has reinvigorated the brand since he took up his role on March 1.

Dudenhoeffer said Barra will focus on building high-quality cars with the latest technology and innovation, which means Opel's "German engineering" will have a chance to shine.

The relative youth of Barra, 51, and of Neumann, 52, will also be an advantage against the "old men's club" who lead rivals Volkswagen and Hyundai, said Dudenhoeffer, who has in the past been one of the harshest critics of GM's handling of Opel.

Bratzel warned that Barra will not have a smooth ride. "Within a very short time, she will be measured by the old guard in GM on concrete results: that means higher earnings and higher profit margins," he said.

GM aims to bring its money-losing European unit back into profit by 2015. Its recent decisions to withdraw its Chevrolet brand from Europe and to place its Russian operations under Opel's control have given the brand a much-needed boost.

You can reach Paul McVeigh at pmcveigh@crain.com.

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