Karl-Friedrich Stracke believes he has the wind at his back. In April, he was named CEO of Opel/Vauxhall with the task of bringing General Motors' only unprofitable unit back into the black. The division's turnaround is starting to gain momentum, Stracke says. This year, Opel has increased market share in 19 out of 27 European markets. The company is preparing to roll out three significant products: the Zafira Tourer, Astra GTC and Ampera plug-in hybrid. And Opel's sales are expected to grow 8 percent this year despite Europe's sluggish recovery. Stracke outlined Opel's progress in an interview with Automotive News Europe Editor-in-Chief Harald Hamprecht.
Ahead of plan
New CEO plans to revive Opel/Vauxhall; polish the brand with innovative products like Ampera
Meet the boss
Karl-Friedrich Stracke, 55, rose through the GM ranks after joining Opel as a mechanical engineer in 1979. After working in Europe in jobs such as manufacturing director at Opel's plant in Bochum, Germany, and as Opel product development director, he became GM Europe's head of engineering in 2004, responsible for Opel/Vauxhall and product development and Saab product design. After 2006, Stracke took on global product roles within GM, becoming head of global vehicle engineering in 2009, when he led development of the Opel Ampera and Chevrolet Volt. The native of Hesse, Germany, was called back to Europe in April to succeed Nick Reilly as Opel/Vauxhall CEO.
We are on the right path. I can't anticipate financial results, but we have gained market share in 19 out of 27 European markets since the start of the year. We are also in the running outside of Europe. For example, we plan to sell 60,000 Opels in Russia this year – after 40,000 last year.
I assume about 1.3 million vehicles for all of 2011. And we won't stay there. We want to continue to expand our market share in Europe, our main market. We achieved an overall share of 6.4 percent in Europe over the first half of the year. In the German car market, we reached a share of 8.4 percent in June alone. At the end of the year, we want to be still higher. By the middle of the decade, we are striving for 8.5 percent in Europe and more than 10 percent in Germany.
Nothing has changed with regard to our objective of finishing 2011 at least at breakeven.
It was certainly a good, realistic plan. Incidentally, we are even above the sales plan for this year. Now we need special shifts and shorter factory breaks (to boost production). At the same time, we have very important introductions ahead of us. The Zafira Tourer and the Astra GTC will give us a more powerful tailwind.
Our goal is to be sustainably profitable beginning next year.
I wouldn't like to cite specific figures. But we're confident we will achieve our goal with our significantly improved cost structure, which will have its effect in 2012 for the first time. And (we are targeting) higher sales figures.
The Ampera is our most important launch of the year – the right vehicle at the right time. It puts us three years ahead of the competition. It drives under purely electric power at least 60km and then additionally about 500km thanks to the range extender.
That perception is incorrect. The Ampera and Volt siblings are a development of General Motors and not of an individual brand. Many engineers in the U.S. as well as our research center at Mainz-Kastel carried out this development. I myself played a leading role as GM's vice president of engineering. We differentiated the two vehicles sharply from another: In the exterior and interior design, in the driving and acoustic comfort, and above all in the eight-year battery warranty that only will be available to Ampera customers.
We expect a volume of 8,000 to 10,000 vehicles in 2012. At the moment, we already have 5,000 pre-orders, including 2,000 from private customers. In addition, our production capacity was recently increased at GM's Hamtramck factory, where the Ampera is built. I am confident that we can build 12,000 to 15,000 Amperas if demand keeps growing.
No. Out of our 4,600 dealerships in Europe, 150 to 200 are becoming Ampera partners. They will invest in the necessary hardware and software. Most of the Ampera dealers initially will be in Germany and the Netherlands. We expect Germany and the Netherlands each will generate 30 percent of the Ampera's total European sales volume.
I believe it will, not least of all because many VIPs and politicians have expressed interest in the car. In addition, our production capacity was recently increased at GM's Hamtramck factory, where the Ampera is built. I am confident that we can build 12,000 to 15,000 Amperas if demand keeps growing. Incidentally, we are the only manufacturer in the world that assembles its own lithium-ion batteries. It is only the cells themselves that we don't manufacture on our own. We source them from a supplier.
We have pointed out repeatedly that we won't make a profit on the first generation of the Ampera. With such revolutionary projects, there always has to be a kick-off investment. That will quickly change with the second and third generation of the Ampera.
Wayne Brannon, the head of Chevrolet Europe, and I are completely in agreement. GM's portfolio strategy is completely clear. Opel will stand out more clearly against VW and Ford. Chevrolet will serve other customer segments. We are not actually getting in each other's way. This issue is being needlessly exaggerated.
We will pay more attention to our Opel clubs, the most loyal fans of our brand. We will closely examine our motorsports strategy and carefully weigh what advances our brand the most. On the product side, we will become more emotionally appealing with models such as the Astra GTC, a small SUV and a new, intelligent small car in the B segment.
We are in the planning phase and we'll use GM's modular architecture kit for it. Such a vehicle would round out our brand upwards and position it higher overall.