In Rita Forst’s role as chief engineer at General Motors Co.'s unprofitable Opel brand, she is advocating the bridging of a cultural gap between the US and Germany to overhaul the European model lineup.
Whether it’s her role as executive at the powertrain unit or heading GM's diesel engine development center in Turin, Italy, she has always made it a point to set up exchanges between employees of different nationalities.
She said that working in a globalized environment will only succeed if each knows, accepts and adapts to various cultures. Forst, the only female chief engineer at a major carmaker, was tasked in January to develop models for GM's European unit to stop customers from moving to rivals such as Volkswagen AG.
Turning around the division is vital to GM's planned share sale later this year. Willi Diez, head of the Institute for Automobile Industry in Nuertingen, Germany, said that Forst will have to “scramble to gear up and complete Opel's range of cars, and do it in a way that they actually bring in money.”
Nonetheless, he is taking a wait-and-see attitude to the extent that GM will give her in tailoring cars for European drivers. Forst said that when GM was dilly-dallying on a plan to sell the unit, it had lost some customers to rivals.
But to get them back, Forst intends to inject Opel with more “passion,” fuel efficiency and clever design. The European Automobile Manufacturers' Association said that Opel's share of western European sales fell to 7.1% in 2009 from 10.2% in 2001. Opel's eight-month share was 7.2%. [via autonews - sub. required]