Wolfgang Bernhard, production chief at Mercedes-Benz, is bent on making sure that Daimler AG is successful at building a factory in central Hungary that will produce its compact cars. Since Bernhard returned to the Daimler AG management board a year ago, he has made four trips to central Hungary.
Bernhard has turned his attention to the 800 million-euro ($1.1 billion) plant near the city of Kecskemet that is said to be where the carmaker will produce two compact car models.
Bernhard, 50, is considered by many analysts to be the most likely to succeed CEO Dieter Zetsche. Five years ago, Bernhard was pushed out by former-CEO Juergen Schrempp. Since he got back, he has maintained a low profile and he has expressed a determination to make factories run more smoothly.
Mercedes has been lagging behind BMW AG and Volkswagen AG's Audi in filling assembly lines. Stefan Bratzel, head of the Center of Automotive Management in Bergisch-Gladbach, Germany, said that Bernhard is the “central candidate” for CEO but he has a lot to accomplish first.
He said that in recent years, Daimler’s results have been like a “roller coaster ride” and so he believes that the key challenge currently is “continuity.” In the fourth quarter, a lack of consistency was evident.
From posting 9.5% earnings before interest and taxes in the third quarter, the figure fell to 8.3% in the fourth quarter.
The surprising drop in profitability was one of the factors that contributed to a 4.4% decrease in Daimler shares when earnings were released on Feb. 16. Since Bernhard entered the board, the stock has gained 60%. [via autonews - sub. required]