Archive : German Will Lead BMW’s British Unit

INTERNATIONAL BUSINESS: German Will Lead BMW’s British Unit

In a surprise move, BMW said today that it was naming a German, Walter Hasselkus, to take over as chief of its British unit, the Rover Group. Mr. Hasselkus, head of BMW’s successful motorcycle division, will begin the new post on Sept. 1, replacing John Towers, who stepped down June 1.

BMW had been looking for a British executive to fill the job. But the company stressed that the appointment did not signal a change in strategy and that Rover would retain its British identity. “Rover will remain a purely British company,” a BMW spokesman said. “There will be a clear product division. The corporate strategy remains unchanged.”

Car industry analysts, however, were not so sure. They said that the move to name a German chief signaled that BMW was increasingly impatient with Rover’s losses and that the company would play a stronger role in managing the British company. BMW acquired Rover in 1994 and has pursued an aggressive investment program to improve quality.

In 1995, BMW invested $788.6 million in Rover. But the British auto maker has continued to lose money, and the chairman of BMW, Bernd Pischetsrieder, has said he does not expect Rover to turn a profit before the year 2000. “Rover was a nicely wrapped package, but it was not so pleasant when BMW opened it up,” said Peter Schmidt, analyst at Automotive Industry Data in Britain. “The shortcomings are much clearer now.”

Keith Adams
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