LONDON - Wolfgang Reitzle, the master of all Ford luxury-car brands, is skeptical of Ford's plan to sell US-built Lincolns in Europe.
Now that Ford owns Volvo, Reitzle said, the company's premium-car marketing strategy in Europe has to be reviewed. Ford planned to launch the Lincoln LS in Europe later this year. Built on the same platform as the Jaguar S-type, the LS would help fill the gap caused by the demise of the full-size Ford Scorpio last year.
Reitzle, who joined Ford in March after 23 years at BMW, said the LS could succeed in Europe.
'The Lincoln Town Car would not be the ideal car for Europe, but the LS is a super car,' said Reitzle in an interview at his tiny office in London's prestigious Berkeley Square. 'They did a really good job. In comparison, with BMW, Merecedes, Audi and Lexus, I think the car is really good. It could be sold (in Europe).
'But now that we have Volvo here I think we should first look at the whole portfolio - and at the European market - and work with Volvo people on the final ultimate positioning ... and whether to fit Lincoln in or not.'
Reitzle sees little overlap between his two main European brands - Volvo and Jaguar.
'Within the premium car business, Jaguar and Volvo are the two extremes,' he said. 'That's ideal. They are so far away in positioning. Which brands could you select to be more complementary?'
Reitzle, who made a bitter departure from BMW on 5 February, now says that it may have been one of the luckiest days of his life. Soon afterward, Ford President Jac Nasser named him group vice president of Premier Automotive Group, Ford's new luxury-car division.
Nasser created Premier to group together the company's luxury brands: Volvo, Jaguar, Lincoln and Aston Martin. Ford hopes the four marques will reach 1 million annual units within a few years, enough to rival the likes of Mercedes-Benz and BMW.
Reitzle, 50, has just moved into his new headquarters in Berkeley Square. His new high-tech desk still has the delivery labels on it.
Reitzle sees himself as a kind of super brand manager, in charge of tapping into Ford's huge resources without compromising the integrity of the marques under his care.
'My main job is running these companies - four companies in three different countries with totally different positioning,' he says.
He must first oversee the integration of Volvo into Ford and avoid changing the culture that has made Volvo so successful.
In the longer term, Reitzle must manage the quadrupling in size of Jaguar without sacrificing any of the hard-earned quality gains the company has made in recent years.
The next step in the process comes with the launch of the baby Jaguar, the X400. Combined with the recently launched S-type, the X400 will take Jaguar production from 50,000 to about 200,000 units a year.
Reitzle has already spent a week each at Jaguar in Coventry, England, and Volvo in Gothenburg, Sweden. He also visited San Francisco for the dealer launch of the LS. He will visit Lincoln's US headquarters in Irvine, California, soon.
Reitzle says he needs another month to finish visiting factories and research and development centers, studying product plans, and talking with dealers and others involved in the four brands in order to fully assess his new realm.
Premier Automotive will be a kind of virtual organization. The London office is in a converted turn-of-the-century townhouse. Reitzle's staff, including administrative assistants, will number only about 15 people.
There will be two senior finance officers and sales and marketing executives in the London office.
'We don't want to build another empire or bureaucracy,' he says. 'We'll have no hierarchy.'
Reitzle sees two sides to his job.
'On one side, I will always be the Jaguar person, or the Volvo person or the Lincoln person. On the other hand, I have a second hat as group vice president of the Ford Motor Co., being responsible for the overall results of the whole group.'
Besides Nasser, the Ford executives Reitzle is having the most contact with are three group vice presidents: Richard Parry-Jones, product development and quality; James Padilla, manufacturing; and Robert Rewey, marketing and sales.
Reitzle must decide where Premier can gain by tapping into Ford and where the individual companies need to rely on themselves in order to retain their brand integrity.
Whenever there is any doubt, 'we'll go for the solution that doesn't compromise the brand,' he says.
When it comes to taking advantage of common resources of a large auto manufacturer, there is no more obvious area of cooperation than common platforms.
But Reitzle says he is not thinking in platform terms.
'Frankly, I don't like to talk about platforms,' he says. 'For me, it makes more sense to talk about components and systems strategy.
'So I'm looking, together with Richard Parry-Jones, at a world-class collection of components and systems. It's a unique opportunity to use that volume base in finding an intelligent combination of components for the different products.'
Reitzle envisions going through products at Jaguar, for example, 'component by component.'
He is also looking at common practices in areas like sales and marketing. He is considering the idea of instituting a common ordering system for all the companies.
Naturally, he is a very busy man.
'I'm on a two-shift, six-day pattern,' he says. 'I use the weekends for travel. The only problem is I didn't find a way to shrink down my sleeping time below five hours.'