Michael Lohscheller, head of Opel, a car manufacturer belonging to the French PSA group, explained in an interview with the Augsburger Allgemeine newspaper how he has brought Opel back into the black after almost two decades of losses, what role electric cars will play in the future of the manufacturer and what the idea of a purely electric Manta looks like.
"Opel has had a hard time with 18 years of losses," says Lohscheller. It is unlikely "that you will find a company in Germany with a comparable balance sheet". It was only after the departure of General Motors after almost 90 years of partnership and with the new parent company PSA behind us that the tide finally turned: "That makes us happy. Opel is a healthy company again," says Lohscheller, who thanks to the entire Opel team.
PSA boss Carlos Tavares did "something very good when he took over the company, giving us 100 days to develop a plan to turn Opel around," says Lohscheller, explaining the beginning of the upswing. "Our message was: The Opel team does it itself and nobody else". With the plan, called "Pace!", developed jointly within the company, Opel "has become sustainably profitable and is well on the way to becoming electric and global". According to Lohscheller, the Opel team has thus turned Opel and not external consultants, as is usually the case: "In the past, consultants told us that you have to do this, you have to do that, you have to measure yourself against one or the other competitor. None of this has worked."
Now Opel could "for the first time since 1997, pay a bonus of 600 euros to its employees". "Many people were astonished." The rescue plan was "very simple", as Lohscheller says: "We decided to give up unprofitable business and reduce the complexity of our vehicles. So we decided, for example, that we don't need far more than 20 different steering wheels, eight or nine are also enough". With measures such as these, sales per vehicle in Germany "improved significantly by an average of 1400 euros".
"We can now invest heavily again"
However, to achieve this, employment in Germany had to be "noticeably" reduced, from a good 19,000 to less than 15,000: "After 18 years of losses, we couldn't just carry on like this, otherwise Opel would have disappeared at some point," Lohscheller explains the necessity for this. The rescue was only possible with fewer employees, he said. "But we also kept our word and did not close any plants or make any redundancies. We have reduced jobs through early retirement or severance pay." These regulations were "very attractive for the employees", Opel had "taken a lot of money in hand". In return, Opel was able to secure "tens of thousands of jobs" - "not only at Opel but also at suppliers and in the trade.
Now Opel "can also invest heavily again, for example in our plants in Rüsselsheim and Eisenach. In Kaiserslautern, 2000 new jobs are to be created when our battery cell factory there is completed. A good two billion euros are to flow into the latter alone, together with partners such as the PSA Group and the French battery cell expert Saft. French President Macron rightly calls the project an "Airbus of the battery", after all, "a battery cell plant is also being built in France".
The necessity for this is given: "We must produce battery cells ourselves in Europe and catch up with the Asians. What Airbus has achieved with aeroplanes, we must achieve with battery cells," says Lohscheller. Kaiserslautern alone could "supply battery cells for 500,000 electric vehicles annually. Only a European champion can do that."
"We want to sell hundreds of thousands of electric cars"However, Germany still has to "make enormous efforts" to make electric mobility a success, for example with regard to the charging infrastructure for electric cars. "We want to sell hundreds of thousands of electric cars," says Lohscheller, "so we need to do this quickly by expanding the charging infrastructure.
The cooperation with the new owner PSA works perfectly, says Lohscheller: "Paris is closer to us than Detroit ever was - not only geographically," says the Opel boss. For example, there are fewer cultural differences. In addition, Opel has common platforms with PSA. "And the French give us more freedom," the design team in Rüsselsheim and the management talk about Opel design "nobody gets in. Only we can understand what the German Opel brand stands for. We buy parts together, which significantly reduces costs," says Lohscheller.
In addition, Opel can now expand more strongly abroad: "This is a great advantage and a huge opportunity. We are now going into new markets, such as Japan, Russia or Colombia. We have also significantly expanded our business in North Africa. And we're looking at the largest automobile market in the world, China." Opel's goal is "to become electric, profitable and global. We are doing all this now. We deliver," Lohscheller promises. By 2024 the entire fleet is to be "continuously electrified". Although Lohscheller laughs at first when it comes to a purely electric revival of the Opel cult coupe Manta, which celebrates its 50th birthday this year. But he hints that this Manta idea could become reality and asks "for a little more patience".
Source: Augsburger Allgemeine - Opel boss Lohscheller: "We have saved Opel".