Opel Downsizes the Management Again

For almost three years, Frederic Brunet was on the Opel management team, responsible for the automaker’s finances and IT. At the end of March, however, the French resigned from his position in Rüsselsheim. The reason: Brunet rose elsewhere. In the new parent company Stellantis, which in early 2021 resulted from the merger of Peugeot S.A. and Fiat Chrysler emerged, the manager has been CFO responsible for all corporate brands in Europe since April.

Georg Magel succeeded him as CFO at Opel. But unlike Brunet, Magel is not part of the management team at Opel, but rather one level of the hierarchy below, the Handelsblatt learned from corporate circles. This means that the number of members on the top management committee of the long-established vehicle manufacturer has been reduced to just three people.

In particular, these are brand boss Michael Lohscheller, labor director Ralph Wangemann and development manager Marcus Lott. “We deliberately reduced the number of GmbH managing directors to three in order to further streamline the structure,” said Opel upon request. That fits into the image of a company that currently likes to present itself publicly as the “world champion in efficiency”.

Nevertheless, there is a completely different explanation circulating internally for the new modesty of the Hessians: “Opel is being degraded bit by bit under Stellantis,” says a number of senior executives. In the mega-corporation comprising 14 brands, the Opel Blitz is just one logo among many others. The reduced number of high management positions reflects the loss of power and influence, said an insider: “Our activities are being systematically shut down.”

Opel Automobile Industry Europe Stellantis Groupe PSA Fiat Chrysler
In fact, when Opel Automobile GmbH was still the sole property of Peugeot S.A., at times it had twice as many managing directors as it does today. The first adjustment was made at the beginning of 2019: At that time, production manager Rémi Girardon left Rüsselsheim. His position on the Opel management board was canceled without replacement, and the committee shrank from six to five people.

According to the statutes, only two managing directors are required
After that, nothing changed for a long time. It was not until Stellantis was founded in mid-January 2021 that the next top manager at Opel, Xavier Duchemin, left the company. Stephen Norman, who has taken over the sales department from Duchemin, only acts in the rank of Senior Vice President.

Internally, many Opel managers are now afraid that Stellantis could cut Lott’s position as managing director in the medium term. Because in principle, according to the statutes, Opel only needs two managing directors, with one being responsible for human resources and social affairs as labor director. In the short term, however, nothing will change in the current line-up for the time being, according to corporate circles.

Nevertheless, there are further indications of the loss of importance of Opel: Brand boss Michael Lohscheller was, under the umbrella of Peugeot S.A., still a member of the four-person executive committee and was also responsible for the Eurasia region on the 18-person executive committee. Since Stellantis was founded, however, Lohscheller has been de facto only Opel CEO.

The manager himself takes it calmly: “I don’t see the importance of Opel in the Stellantis Group being devalued in any way,” Lohscheller last responded at the beginning of March to the fears of internal skeptics. “On the contrary: Opel has weight and voice. I notice that in all meetings, ”he said at the time.

But the fact is: Opel has been suffering from customer losses for years. The company’s market share in its core European market has dropped from 7.1 to 4.3 percent since 2014. In parallel to sales, sales have also steadily shrunk in recent years. After all: Since 2018, Opel has been at least consistently profitable in its operating business.