LONDON - While several Jacques Nasser initiatives have been thrown out, the Premier Automotive Group should continue to operate in much the same form.
But major changes are already being planned for Ford's luxury-car group, including combining its three British brands into one operating unit.
Much of Premier's future hinges on retaining hard-driving Chairman Wolfgang Reitzle. For now, Reitzle insists that he wants to stay and that he is loyal to Ford, regardless of who is boss.
'[Premier] will not be less important than before - in fact the opposite. We will not be changing a convincing plan,' Reitzle said in a November 1 interview.
But as Ford President Nick Scheele said, 'There is nothing that is not on the table. We are looking at everything.'
Which means accountants will be asking if Premier needs headquarters in London and Irvine, California, as well as a support office in New Jersey. Or if Reitzle needs to travel by private jet. Or if the next Jaguar XJ sedan needs a diesel engine.
The investment cost to fund the upcoming Volvo product expansion, lift Land Rover quality, and turn Jaguar into the next BMW could push Ford into losses, one analyst said. Getting those funds may be tough under a cost-cutting regime, said Charles Moss, an industry consultant in London.
Reitzle is a stickler for making sure a Jaguar is a Jaguar, and not a Ford with leather seats. If Ford's finance men reduce development funding to Jaguar, Aston Martin, Land Rover or Volvo, that could upset Reitzle, a source close to him said.
One of the criticisms of Nasser was that he concentrated too much attention on Premier.
'We do not expect anything to happen immediately, but there is a view within Ford of Europe that perhaps too much money and executive time has been concentrated on Premier,' said one Ford executive.
What's more, Ford's expected austerity program might not mesh with Premier's upmarket Berkeley Square offices, shiny new Irvine headquarters, and Reitzle's large staff and jet-set travel schedule.
Some insiders in Dearborn have resented Reitzle's position of privilege, since he is not on the board of directors. If Reitzle feels pressured by financial or political restrictions, that could change his mood, a source said.
'It's good to have a genius to badger for a new platform or better engine. But is Ford willing to make the sacrifices necessary to have someone like Reitzle?' asked Moss.
But Reitzle's power may grow if Scheele is focused on the USA.
Coincidental with the Dearborn shakeup has been a major change in the Premier structure. The three British marques - Jaguar, Land Rover and Aston Martin -have been united under one operating committee. Though not technically a merger, many of their corporate strategies will be guided by Bob Dover, Land Rover chairman and a former Jaguar executive.
Jaguar Cars Managing Director Jonathan Browning resigned as part of the changes. Browning's post will be taken by Mike Beasley, Jaguar's executive director for engineering and manufacturing.
How far this operating committee goes has not been disclosed. It may simply combine logistics, distribution and back-shop departments. But insiders worry it will get involved in product, manufacturing, sales and marketing areas as well, which has the potential to dilute the individual brands in the quest for economies of scale.
Said Karl Ludvigsen, a London-based analyst who focuses on Ford: 'Premier is at serious risk. It doesn't have a real objective for Ford's business model. The steps they've taken so far could have been done without the Premier structure.'
Reitzle countered such criticisms: 'We want to leverage what we have in the UK. Step-by-step we have been bringing them together. They have absolutely complementary product programs. It has nothing to do with what happened in America. Why do I need two ordering systems, why do I need two quality standards, when the two plants are so close?'
- Richard Johnson and Chris Wright contributed