Airbus Industrie's new executive team will take office Monday amid signals that the European consortium, which has broadened its challenge to Boeing Corp., may tone down its aggressive marketing strategy.
Airbus' incoming president, Jean Pierson, said Thursday he expects to offer specific proposals for "adjustments" in Airbus' operations to the group's supervisory board within a month. Although he and other Airbus officials have declined to give details, industry executives and analysts suggest the new management will focus on the costs of Airbus' recent expansion into new markets and types of aircraft.
Meeting reporters at Airbus headquarters here, Pierson said he would move slowly in making any changes. "I prefer the word 'adjustments.' We are not revolutionary people," he said.
Pierson, an executive from Airbus' French partner, Aerospatiale, was named in February to head the four-nation group, along with a new German executive vice president, Johann Schaeffler. Schaeffler's appointment marks the first time that Airbus' German member, Messerschmitt-Bolkow-Blohm (MBB), has placed one of its own managers in the traditionally French-dominated top leadership.
The appointments ended an apparent boardroom tussle among Airbus' members, incited by the sudden departure in February of Bernard Lathiere after 10 years in office. Analysts regard MBB -- which, like Aerospatiale, owns 37.9 percent of Airbus -- as more conservative than its French partner, and say it is likely to use its new influence in pushing for greater cost accountability within the consortium. British Aerospace holds 20 percent of the group.
The 15-year-old consortium was launched with capital contributed by its member companies, including subsidized loans from their governments. The generous long-term investment in such a multinational consortium was seen as justified to assure Europe a place alongside the U.S. industry.
With the group now firmly established in the market, analysts such as Wyn Ellis, of the London brokerage firm of James Capel and Co., suggest that Airbus will come under increasing pressure to show its commercial viability.
"I have the strong impression that the British government, for one, will not be prepared to invest in the further development of Airbus until it has been shown that its current projects have been a sound commercial investment," Ellis said. Much of the debate within Airbus is over just this question of the group's costs to its members.
The struggle surfaced in January, when the German chairman of Airbus' supervisory board, Franz Josef Strauss, suddenly announced that Lathiere's contract would not be renewed.
During his tenure, Lathiere directed a vigorous -- and expensive -- attack on Boeing's domination of the world airliner market. Under his leadership, Airbus last year scored its biggest success in Boeing's home market with a tentative deal with Pan Am worth as much as $2 billion. Airbus' outgoing interim president, Roger Beteille, expressed confidence Thursday that the group will soon sign a final contract cementing that sale.
But buyers have had the upper hand in recent years, and airliner manufacturers have relied increasingly on sweetened deals to help customers finance their purchases. Lathiere reportedly may have upset some of his Airbus partners with what they considered concessions that cut too deeply into profits.