By Anna Smolchenko, Automotive News Europe
Moscow -- Foreign automakers are loading their executive ranks here with more seniority and corporate clout to reflect the rapidly growing importance of the Russian car market.
Russia became the sixth biggest new-car market in the world behind the US, China, Japan, Germany and Italy last year on sales of 2.4 million units. It became the third biggest market in Europe.
According to Ernst & Young, the international consulting firm, the market will more than double by 2012 to 5.2 million vehicles, 4.6 million of which will be foreign models.
"Russia is on top of the list of the companies and is being given more priority," said Oleg Lukianchikov, a Moscow-based analyst with Ernst & Young.
Assigning more senior executives to Russia can help foreign automakers deal with status-conscious government officials, he said.
General Motors, Nissan, Volkswagen and Mitsubishi have all upgraded their executive ranks here over the past year.
-- GM for the first time has named a corporate vice president, 51-year-old Chris Gubbey, to head its diverse Russian operations. Gubbey, who had been managing director of GM Holden in Australia, took over February 1 from Warren Browne, who will head GM operations in Turkey. GM sales in Russia last year increased 96 percent over 2006 to 259,898 cars. The automaker markets five brands here.
-- Nissan has created two senior posts to oversee Russia, the automaker's biggest market in Europe last year on sales of 116,500. Toru Saito, a corporate vice president and head of the Moscow office, moved to Nissan Europe headquarters in Switzerland effective April 1 to take the new post of senior vice president for eastern Europe sales operations, with responsibility for Russia. Takuji Fujji, who had been vice president of corporate planning at Nissan Europe, moved to Moscow effective April 1 as managing director of the newly established Nissan Regional Business East, which will oversee Russia, eastern Europe and Turkey.
-- Volkswagen named Martin Jahn, 38-year-old former deputy prime minister of the Czech Republic, general director of Volkswagen Group RUS effective April 1. VW is expanding its sales and production in Russia with the aim of boosting new-car sales in the country to 300,000 a year by 2010 from about 31,000 last year.
-- Mitsubishi Motors last year elevated its Russian operation to a stand-alone business unit, meaning it reports directly to headquarters in Japan and not to the European office. Mitsubishi announced in March that it intends to build an assembly plant in Russia and said it would detail its plans within three months. The company said it sold 100,609 vehicles in Russia last year.
From Automotive News Europe (A Crain publication)