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Business

New Owner Ousts Board Chairman at Tire Maker Continental

The new main owner of car components group Continental ousted the board chairman on Saturday, Jan. 24, in a move aimed at creating a key global player supplying the world auto industry.

A worker lifting a tire at a Continental plant

Continental is controlled by a smaller, family-owned, German ball-bearings manufacturer

Hubertus von Gruenberg stepped down from the chair at a board meeting in Hannover, but is to remain on the 10-seat supervisory board of Continental, which is one of Germany's 30 top stock-traded companies.

Hubertus von Gruenberg

Von Grueneberg was under pressure to step down

The move came after pressure from a smaller, family-owned company, Schaeffler.

Ball-bearings manufacturer Schaeffler's daring, hostile takeover of the industrial giant has dominated German business news for months.

To tame opposition, Schaeffler agreed to take a minority position only, parking most of its shares with banks. That accord was mediated by former German chancellor Gerhard Schroeder.

The board members said Herzogenaurach-based Schaeffler had won four board seats, with one of its directors to become chairman.

As the extraordinary feud developed, Schaeffler accused von Gruenberg of sabotaging cooperation between the two companies and following an agenda of his own. Both companies are in deep trouble from the world downturn and the slump in world car sales.

Policing the peace accord

Gerhard Schroeder

Former German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder has taken on the role of mediator

Billionaire Maria-Elisabeth Schaeffler, who controls Schaeffler, attended the board meeting in Hanover. She left about noon, as did Schroeder, who says he is policing the Schaeffler-Continental peace accord.

Before Saturday's upset, Schaeffler had no board seats at Continental despite directly owning 49.9 percent of the shares.

Continental supplies tires, rubber components and electronic equipment for cars.

What's at stake?

Barely noticed by brand-conscious consumers, components makers have become the key manufacturers in car making, supplying entire, standardized systems and electronic features that only need to be bolted into the steel bodies of cars at assembly plants.

Schaeffler has little interest in Continental's original, low-profit business as a moulder of tires. Instead it covets Continental lucrative business manufacturing sophisticated electronic parts that make a modern car "intelligent."

Schaeffler completed its purchase of Continental in January in a deal worth some 8 billion euros ($10.4 billion). The newly merged company will be one of the world's largest auto parts makers, rivaling the likes of Robert Bosch GmbH.

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