So far Wolfgang Reitzle likes what he has seen inside Ford Motor Co. He likes the Jaguar X400, Volvo's Gothenburg plant and the ride and handling of the Lincoln LS200, which he drove in California a few weeks ago. He likes the people he will work with and the plans he has been briefed on.
Or is Reitzle just being polite?
It is a time of sensory overload for the ex-BMW executive, hired by Ford's Jac Nasser nine weeks ago to run Jaguar, Volvo, Lincoln and Aston Martin. He is adjusting to new cars, new colleagues and a new corporate culture. It must be surreal after 23 years at BMW. His first impressions may not be lasting impressions.
But Reitzle sounds enthusiastic about the X400, the small Jaguar due in 2001, and says he won't make any changes that would delay its launch schedule. Still, he wants to know the last possible date for tinkering. 'Sometimes I look seven times in a row at a certain product and when I come back the eighth time I see something,' he said.
How can he resist? He helped create the market the X400 aspires to - often called the '3 series segment,' never the 'C-class segment.'
Reitzle says '80 or maybe 90 percent' of what he learned at BMW can be applied at Ford. Some say his mastery of detail comes at the expense of the bold statement. The current 3 series is miles ahead of the previous generation, but you have to look close.
That is the BMW way. But he won't try to clone his previous employer in England and Sweden. 'What's good for BMW is not necessarily good for Jaguar,' he said.
The man is often portrayed (especially in the UK) as the figurehead of German automotive arrogance. That's wrong. Reitzle's restless-in-his-chair manner signifies the opposite - a healthy fear of failure.
He is a realist who knows that Jaguar's transformation from a producer of 50,000 units a year to one that builds and sells 200,000 won't be easy.
'It can be done,' Reitzle said, 'but no one ever did it before.'
While leading the revolution at Jaguar, Reitzle must also manage the integration of Volvo into Ford. Hopefully, he will have to spend zero time learning Ford's Realpolitik. Reitzle is not really a corporate politician. He needs room to manuever and wily Jac Nasser seems to understand that. Premier Automotive Group is a hideaway, an off-site laboratory. Reitzle's tiny office on Berkeley Square in London, with a small group of staffers, is a wormhole through the Ford galaxy.
He's worth the special treatment. Reitzle's mere presence lends credibility to Jaguar and Volvo - especially in Germany where the brands must do better. An admiring Opel executive in Russelsheim predicted that Reitzle's association will even boost Ford's image in the country.
Reitzle, who manages by force of personality, will also energize the troops.
'He can make 50,000 people do the work of 60,000,' said the Opel man, who would have liked Reitzle for General Motors. 'That is worth a lot.'