I’ve sat through quite a few of these ‘round tables’, when about a dozen journalists cram around a conference table, fire questions at the boss and scribble down the answers.
Hopefully the answers come back in some sort of printable form and most of us hacks are well-practised in turning these events into usable words for our readers, although they can be hugely frustrating if the exec isn’t in a co-operative mood.
Neumann definitely doesn’t fall into this category. In fact I’d go as far to say he’s one of the two most impressive GM bosses I’ve ever seen in action in interviews.
Given that English is not his first language, the former-VW exec has a fine grasp of the nuances of the English language and is ready to share a joke. But most importantly Neumann comes across as an impressive leader of a company with a clear strategy, a financial recovery plan and a willingness to communicate.
Being an engineer and one-time head of VW’s electronics R&D, Neumann undoubtedly understands the new wave of connectivity and importance of electrical systems architecture that is opening up as a new front in the global car industry.
And given the decisive strategic and tactical actions that Vauxhall-Opel seems to be putting in place, Neumann’s leadership appears to be motivating where it matters – in the design and engineering studio, marketing and dealers.
Of course there’s still plenty to do at Vauxhall-Opel, not least delivering the promise of break-even by ‘mid-decade’, which is about 18 months time.
Longer–term, GM harbours a desire to regain its position as Europe’s number two best-seller, moving up from today’s number three spot, and I wouldn’t wager against it.
All three are based on new group platforms, which will put substance on claims that Vauxhall-Opel has put past quality concerns behind it and is now gunning for the type of quality VW Group has brought to the mass market.
Given the speed at which touchscreens are revolutionising car interiors, and given the Monza concept’s extensive use of TV-type dashboard technology, I expect GM to score a lead over VW in this technology.
The Agila, for example, has been disconnected from its Suzuki underpinnings and rather than head to the comfort zone of a cheap Korean/Daewoo platform, will be built on a European quality small car base, linked to the new Corsa.
Today’s Corsa, of course, traces its heritage back to the time when Fiat and GM were in partnership in 2002 and co-developed a platform for the Grande Punto and Corsa. Variants of this platform also underpin the Alfa Mito, Fiat 500L, 500X and Adam.
The Astra will also switch to a new platform, which is promised to be lighter and more compact than the generously proportioned current model and inspired by the sleek Monza concept.
GM really does appear to be making huge steps forward.