GM's Opel names new finance chief, R&D head

FRANKFURT Wed Jul 18, 2012 2:40pm EDT

The logo German car manufacturer Opel with its promotional slogan '' We live cars'' is pictured at the headquarters in Ruesselsheim July 17, 2012. REUTERS/Alex Domanski

The logo German car manufacturer Opel with its promotional slogan '' We live cars'' is pictured at the headquarters in Ruesselsheim July 17, 2012.

Credit: Reuters/Alex Domanski

FRANKFURT (Reuters) - General Motors' (GM.N) European unit Opel has named Michael Lohscheller, who helped turn around Volkswagen's (VOWG_p.DE) loss-making U.S. operations, as its new chief financial officer as part of a broader management reshuffle.

The 43-year-old German national will join Opel after four years in the United States at VW where he was CFO of the national sales operation, the company said on Wednesday.

He will start on September 1, replacing Mark James.

The move comes a day after GM appointed Thomas Sedran, a restructuring specialist, as interim chief executive of Opel, and said it would redouble efforts to return the ailing European automobile brand to profitability.

Opel said incoming CFO Lohscheller gathered key experience managing finance, IT, purchasing and logistics over the past 20 years, working at companies including Mitsubishi Motors Europe (7211.T), Daimler (DAIGn.DE) and forklift truck maker Jungheinrich (JUNG_p.DE).

Opel, which operates in the UK as Vauxhall, also promoted its global vehicle line executive for compact cars, Michael Ableson, to head of research & development, where he replaces Rita Forst.

While Opel's finances are likely to continue to be in dire shape, following an underlying loss of $256 million in the first quarter alone, company sources could not readily explain why Forst was leaving her post given the raft of 23 new models and 13 new powertrains scheduled for launch through 2016.

The departure of Forst and James means that five management board members will have been replaced since the start of this year. Even a new head of design was appointed last month. Only the personnel and purchasing chiefs have been spared.

In a statement Stephen Girsky, GM vice chairman and GM Europe president, said Lohscheller and Ableson would "help accelerate the Opel Revitalisation plan".

Both appointees will need the approval of the supervisory board at their next meeting, Opel said.

The reshuffle won't just affect top executives. German daily Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung cited two Opel board members as saying some 500 senior managers -- many with salaries upwards of 100,000 euros -- would be offered severance packages.

Altogether Girsky is looking to get rid of 2,400 managers at Opel, the paper added, citing the board members.

Opel could not be reached for a statement.

Separately, Volkswagen said in a statement that Lohscheller's replacement would be Hardy Brennecke. The 38-year-old former sales controller for the brand's range of light commercial vehicles has most recently been reporting directly to the group's CFO Hans Dieter Poetsch on key projects.

"With his extensive experience in Wolfsburg, he also brings the very needed element of having established strong networks at headquarters, which are critical in communicating our progress, and future opportunities at the appropriate times," Volkswagen Group of America CEO Jonathan Browning said.

Brenneck will be responsible for the financial functions of VW and Audi Brand Controlling, Group Controlling, Treasury, Purchasing for the National Sales Company and Tax.

(Reporting by Christiaan Hetzner and Maria Sheahan; Editing by Jeremy Gaunt and Jon Loades-Carter)

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