DaimlerChrysler recently sent Rolf Eckrodt, the former head of its Adtranz rail equipment subsidiary, to Japan to serve as Mitsubishi Motors' chief operating officer. D/C bought a 34 percent stake in the troubled Japanese automaker in 2000. Eckrodt began the new job earlier this year. He spoke with Automotive News Europe reporter Luca Ciferri at the recent Geneva auto show.
What are the best and worst things that you've found at Mitsubishi?
In the North American market we are very successful in terms of volume, though we are not making a profit yet. But this represents a turnaround. Sonobe-san (Takashi Sonobe, president and CEO of Mitsubishi Motors) turned around Mitsubishi in North America. Together, we can turn around the entire company.
On the contrary, Europe is a disaster. We suffered tremendous losses. Actions are required and they will come soon. All the details will be announced at the end of March.
You are new in the position, but do you have any plan for Europe in mind?
I'm wondering if we should separate production from the sales organization. It makes sense in many countries to combine them. Maybe in Europe it could be better to separate them. If you are responsible just for production, you fully concentrate on that side of the business. And the same happens for the sales people. But I want to underline this is not a final decision, just a personal feeling.
European motorists want more diesels. What will Mitsubishi offer?
We are looking for other engines and other engine suppliers.
On March 30, Mitsubishi will buy the other 50 percent of the NedCar plant in Born, the Netherlands, from Volvo Car Corp. When the Volvo S40/V40 is phased out in mid-2004, what will NedCar build?
There are two lines in Born. One will be used for the (small-car) project code-named Z car, which will appear in the spring of 2004. The second line will build the successors to our current Carisma.
Are you convinced that you can succeed in this job?
I have led three other companies through very difficult turnarounds by enforcing strict standards of reform. Based on that experience, I am encouraged by what I have seen at Mitsubishi in these first few weeks. I've already met with our suppliers twice, three times with our dealers and four times with our unions. Feedback has been very positive.
What is it like to be a 'gaijin' (Japanese for foreigner) in the Japanese auto industry?
Definitely easier today. (Nissan President) Carlos Ghosn was the icebreaker and now in Japan foreign expertise is welcome.
Ghosn is famous for being 'Mr. 7-11' - getting to the office at 7 am and finishing at 11 pm. What about your working hours?
I think I am beating them all. Since I took over as Mitsubishi Motors executive vice president and chief operating officer five weeks ago, I've been working 7 to 11 too - but Monday through Sunday.