Top French carmaker ousts CEO

France's biggest carmaker, PSA Peugeot-Citroen, abruptly ousted CEO Christian Streiff on Sunday, saying "exceptional difficulties" confronting the auto industry require new management at the top.

Philippe Varin is being brought in from outside the company June 1 to replace Streiff, the company said in a statement. Roland Vardanega, a member of the three-man board of directors at the car company, will preside over the company until then.

Varin, 56, has worked for French aluminum producer Pechiney and British-Dutch company Corus, helping to turn around the steelmaker's fortunes.

Varin will quickly face major challenges in his new job.

Peugeot-Citroen last month announced a net loss of euro343 million ($433 million) in 2008 compared with a net profit of euro885 million a year earlier. It predicted another loss this year.

The carmaker, along with Renault SA, won a government rescue package that includes euro7.5 billion ($9.8 billion) over five years in low-interest loans. In return it promised not to lay anyone off this year or close factories.

Streiff admitted to tough talks with French President Nicolas Sarkozy over government help for the French auto industry. Two days after the rescue package was unveiled, Peugeot-Citroen announced plans to cut 11,000 jobs this year, after losing 18,000 jobs — about 10% of the work force — since the start of its turnaround plan two years ago.

Streiff, 54, was hospitalized last year after a brief health incident.

He has been criticized in the past for an abrasive management style. Appointed president and chief executive officer of Airbus in July 2006, he served just over three months before going over to Peugeot-Citroen.

The decision to oust Streiff was made unanimously at a meeting Sunday of the company's board, headed by Thierry Peugeot, the statement said.

"I am convinced that under the direction of Philippe Varin, group PSA Peugeot-Citroen will ... reveal its full potential," Peugeot said in the company statement.

It noted that Varin, Streiff's successor, went to Corus in 2003 and brought the company to profit from its previous heavy losses. Varin then brought together Corus and Tata steel in 2007.

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