Herbert Demel is successfully fighting to save one of the first forms of automotive supply: coachbuilding, better known today as contract manufacturing.
As Magna International Inc.s chief operating officer in charge of vehicles and powertrain, the 55-year-old Austrian engineer also steers Magna Steyr, Europes largest contract manufacturer.
Magna Steyr, based in Graz, Austria, near Vienna, last year built 125,436 units, a 37 percent decline from the previous year but more than the combined output of all its European competitors.
More important, Demel has helped secured new contracts to keep Magna Steyr as other coachbuilders lost work when automakers brought more contract work in house to keep their factories busy.
Those new contracts are for the Aston Martin Rapide; Minis first crossover; Peugeots 308 coupe; and the next generations of the Porsche Boxster and Cayman.
Demels accomplishments for Magna Steyr are particularly significant because its rivals are either already out of the coachbuiding business, such Wilhelm Karmann GmbH in Germany, or under bankruptcy protection, such as Heuliez SA of France.
Pininfarina S.p.A. of Italy and Valmet Automotive Inc. of Finland are betting their futures on eventual electric-car production.
Demel is running Magna Steyr for a second time. In his first turn, as CEO from October 2002 to November 2003, he won the contracts that helped the Austrian contract manufacturer reach new production heights.
In 2006, Magna built a record 248,059 units, which was more than that years output for Alfa Romeo, Lancia and Saab.
I always said Magna Steyr building more than 200,000 units a year happened just once because of a combination of a number of very positive outcomes, Demel told Automotive News Europe.
Former Audi and Fiat CEO
Demel began his career at Robert Bosch GmbH in 1984 and moved to Audi in 1990, where he eventually became CEO. He later ran VW's Latin American operations.
After a troubled period at ailing Fiat Auto, where he served as CEO from November 2003 to February 2005, he returned to Magna International to lead the newly created powertrain division.
In November 2005, Magna bought from Porsche roof specialist Car Top System, which also fell under Demels responsibility. In July 2006, the name of the company was changed into Magna Car Top Systems.
In March 2007, Magna Steyr once again became Demels direct responsibility.
In the mid-term, Magna Steyr plans to build between 100,000 to 150,000 units a year, but volume is just half of the equation for a contract manufacturer, Demel told ANE. The other half is added value per unit.
Demel says the added value from 2,000 high-specification, high-priced cars such as the Aston Martin Rapide is similar to the added value from 20,000 units of a niche model built for a volume carmaker.