Nick Reilly, head of General Motors' Opel Vauxhall operation was named Manager of the Year at this year's annual automotive industry conference held by the leading Spanish business school IESE. He was appointed to his present post last year to lead a restructuring of GM's European activities after the US group cancelled plans to sell Opel and Vauxhall to Magna.

Responding to questions from Spanish journalists at IESE in Barcelona on Tuesday evening, Mr Reilly emphasised the continuing importance to GM of Opel's big Zaragoza plant, which produces the Meriva and the Corsa; he praised in particular Zaragoza's flexibility and local supplier base. He welcomed, too, the recent appointment of the first Spanish member of Opel's supervisory board, but would not be drawn on the the subject of whether Zaragoza might be involved in future electric vehicle (EV) production. Plants in Germany and the UK are also vying to produce the Opel Ampera electric car, due to go on sale in Europe late next year, although GM will apparently introduce two or three further EVs in the next few years as well.

Commenting more broadly on GM's European restructuring, Mr Reilly said that the company was “a bit ahead of the plan”, but also warned against complacency. He said that 80 to 85% of the necessary measures would be implemented this year and next.

Addressing the position in Opel's core German market, Mr Reilly conceded that recent uncertainty about the future of the company had been felt more keenly there than elsewhere, and that its brand image in Germany still “needs work”. But he also pointed out that market share in Germany had started to pick up again, helped by initiatives such as a new lifetime warranty (also offered by Vauxhall in the UK), expanded motor-sport activities and the appointment of a new Opel brand ambassador in the person of Lena, the German winner of this year's Eurovision Song Contest.

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