By David Gow and Barbara Schmidt-Mattern
Wolfgang Reitzle, the former BMW executive ousted last month in a boardroom battle over Rover, has been appointed chairman of Jaguar Cars, its parent company, Ford, announced yesterday. Dr Reitzle, regarded as a marketing genius but ferocious cost-cutter, who favoured wielding the axe to the bulk of Rover’s business, was yesterday named head of a new premier automotive group which embraces Volvo, Aston Martin and Lincoln as well as Jaguar. He starts work on Monday.
The unexpected appointment emerged as Stephen Byers, trade and industry secretary, insisted he was optimistic that talks with BMW on providing government aid for a £1.7 billion investment in new facilities at the Longbridge plant near Birmingham, would be successful.
But trade unionist Manfred Schoch, vice-president of BMW’s supervisory board, said he feared Longbridge could be closed unless the Government raised its offer of just £118 million – half that demanded by BMW – which said: ‘The offer is on the table but the Government’s and BMW’s ideas are not congruent. We are still negotiating.”
Dr Reitzle, the architect of BMW’s successful 5-series, is to implement Jaguar’s plans to quadruple annual output and sales to 200,000 by 2002 compared with the current record level of 50,000 – and to boost Ford’s luxury car sales within 10 years to 1 million from 200,000 now. Just seven years ago sales were 20,000 and the luxury car group was, as one official put it, ‘on the brink of extinction”.
He replaces Nick Scheele who has overseen the development of the new mid-sized sports car, the S-Type, which goes on sale this spring and of the Baby Jag, the X400, which enters production at Halewood, near Liverpool, in 2001.
* Mr Byers yesterday underlined the role of regional selective assistance when he visited the Birmingham headquarters of LDV which, with Korean partners Daewoo, is investing £400 million in developing a new range of medium-heavy vans – with £25 million of government aid.