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Gm Can'T Find An 'Adventurous' Executive To Head Opel

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GM can't find an 'adventurous' executive to head Opel

NOVEMBER 30, 2009 - 12:01 AM ET

It appears that Germany's top auto executives are not bold enough -- or perhaps crazy enough -- to take on the challenge of running General Motors' Opel unit.

Earlier this month GM CEO Fritz Henderson said the Detroit carmaker would seek a German-speaking manager "with a sense of adventure" to replace Carl-Peter Forster as head of Opel.

So far Bernhard Mattes, the head of Ford Germany; Rainer Schmueckle, Daimler's chief operating officer; and Herbert Demel, Magna International's vehicles and powertrain boss, are among half a dozen executives who have rebuffed GM's approaches, according to the German press.

They may have heeded former Continental CEO Manfred Wennemer's warning that Opel is likely to fall into bankruptcy in two or three years.

Wennemer, who has also been touted as an outside candidate to lead Opel, says GM will not be able to afford the investment urgently needed to broaden Opel's product and engine lineup to keep it competitive.

GM's plan to keep Opel out of growth markets such as China and Latin America also will hold back the brand, says Wennemer, who served on the trust set up to oversee Opel during GM's short-lived bankruptcy.

Opel's interim CEO, Nick Reilly, has won some grudging praise in Germany for the deft way in which he handled the announcement that GM will ax about 9,000 of its 50,000-person European work force.

But Reilly is shouldering the burden of running Opel alone. GM had planned to send veteran executive Bob Lutz across the Atlantic to help Reilly by taking Forster's role as chairman of Opel's supervisory board.

But Opel's powerful labor boss, Klaus Franz, who is the board's deputy chair, blocked the move.

Franz has already complained that Reilly, an Englishman, is favoring British workers over German employees.

GM needs Reilly, the company's head of international operations whose office is in Shanghai, back in China where the market is booming.

But it looks like Reilly's European adventure might last a little longer than planned.

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