ZURICH - The new president of General Motors Europe says Opel and Vauxhall can realistically expect to gain two or three more points of market share in the next several years if they concentrate on quality and let the past go.
GM Europe has done well under the leadership of Richard Donnelly in the past four years, he said, but 'I think any organization can always do better.'
He denied that he had been sent to douse fires and give Detroit closer control of its European interests.
'That is an overstatement of the true situation,' said Burns in his first interview since taking office. 'Things are not as broken as some people like to imply.
'There are things to do, but there is no panic. We understand what we have to do, and I am very confident we can accomplish them. I like what I see, and I think we can take GME to greater heights.'
This year GM shook up its international operations. Vice President Lou Hughes and about 30 international operations staff have moved from Zurich to Detroit. Donnelly, 55, was promoted to the job of vice president in charge of international manufacturing and quality, based in Detroit.
And Burns, 46, who had been president of Delphi Delco Electronics after a career in engineering and components operations, took over at GM Europe on 1 September.
'I've run a lot of different operations in GM,' he said. 'My approach is that I expect a lot from the organization and they need to expect a lot from me. We are going to do this together. I have been very successful in the past and I don't intend to change my approach.'
Burns said GM's international operations staff moved to Detroit 'because they need to be closer to the corporate action. They need to be more central and more neutral. The center of their universe is not in Europe.'
He said the move gives more independence to GM Europe, not less.
'I think this will allow us to focus on our business here in Europe. It is a wrong conclusion to suppose we now have Detroit looking over our shoulder more closely. There is a lot going on to keep the business lean, and this is a part of that.'
GM Europe and GM International Operations differed over how much Opel engineering time could be allocated to global expansion.
Burns says he is looking forward, not back.
'Some things have happened in the last 18 months. My job is is to put that behind us and get totally focused on building great cars, and that is where I am at.'
Product quality is at the top of his priority list.
'Every product has to be better than the last, produced on time, and with the proper quality at the proper cost,' said Burns. 'I have spend most of the last two weeks getting up to speed and there is good activity out there in GME, but we can take it all further.'
Under Donnelly, GM Europe had four years of growth. Last year, GM's European production was a record 1,830,000 vehicles, and it earned $471 million.
Before he left, Donnelly expanded GM Europe's five-year product plan to include 'several entries never before offered by Opel/Vauxhall,' according to GM Chairman Jack Smith. Both Donnelly and Burns are on the international strategy board and the global vehicle strategy team.
'With some of the products we have coming, we think we could pick up another 10 percent of the market,' said Burns, 'but we have to be realistic about how far we can grow. We are in a very competitive market over which we have no control. Realistically, over a period of time, I would like to capture two or three percentage points.'
That would add sales of more than 275,000 units.
Burns said he expects growth from developing countries like Hungary and Poland, and perhaps some new products from joint ventures.
'It makes sense to have alliances that will allow us to go further quicker than we can go by ourselves,' Burns said.
'Companies can be competitors in one segment and have alliances in others.
'Thinking you can do it all yourself in this day and age is not suitable. I think we have a full and strong product range, but that is not to say that in the future there is not another segment we have to address, perhaps through a new alliance.'