FRANKFURT -- General Motors named its Asian manufacturing boss, Phil Kienle, as head of production at Opel/Vauxhall, where he will play a crucial role in the European unit's product offensive.
Kienle succeeds Peter Thom, who moves to the U.S. to become GM's head of quality for North America.
For GM's European operation, this is the crucial year in which it aims to break even for the first time in more than a decade as part of a plan to introduce 29 new and updated models by 2020. Two years after that Opel aims to achieve a 5 percent operating margin and 8 percent share of the European market, up from 5.8 percent in 2015.
Kienle will lead the manufacturing division's support of Opel/Vauxhall's "most aggressive" vehicle offensive in its history so his strong leadership and global manufacturing experience comes at a critical time for GM's European operations, Jim DeLuca, GM's global manufacturing chief, said in a statement.
Kienle, a graduate of Kettering University in Michigan, has more than 30 years of experience in assembly, paint, press, body and powertrain manufacturing with assignments in Korea, Australia, Africa and most recently China.
He has spent the past few years building up production capacity and training new assembly staff in countries such as India and China to meet rising demand from Asia.
"We potentially need to build a new plant each year just to keep up with market demand," Kienle told Automotive Manufacturing Solutions in an interview last June. "A greenfield site offers the perfect clean slate to try something new. This differs from the U.S. and Europe, where the focus has been on right-sizing volumes."
Thom, a UK national who worked for Ford and Toyota before joining GM, has had to scale back GM's European capacity. The company most recently closed the Zafira Tourer plant in Bochum, Germany, in 2014.
At Opel, one of Kienle's core tasks will be to ensure the company's assembly plants in its high-wage European market run at full capacity on a three-shift basis to be cost efficient. GM's Ellesmere Port plant in the UK, which builds Astra five-door models and Astra Sports Tourer wagons, for example, has suffered from the strong pound and is more than 50 years old – older than the Bochum plant that was inefficient even when running at capacity.
Opel CEO Karl-Thomas Neumann has been shy about providing a figure for the division's factory utilization rate, simply saying that it should achieve 100 percent when the brand hits its market share target in 2022.
An Opel insider said Kienle's move did not signal that management was considering making further changes in its production footprint or staffing levels, since the company already had its manufacturing costs under control. Instead Kienle would likely focus on a more efficient ramp-up of new cars and other related tasks stemming from its product offensive.
"This is about looking at how we can more intelligently manage this growth such as better tackling the rising complexity that stems from more derivatives and niche models," the person said.