PSA’s supervisory board, chaired by Thierry Peugeot, on Sunday fired chairman and CEO Christian Streiff, appointing steelmaker Corus’ CEO Philippe Varin in his place from 1 June.

Peugeot said in a statement: “Given the extraordinary difficulties currently faced by the automotive industry, the supervisory board decided unanimously that a change in the senior leadership position was necessary. I am confident that under the leadership of Philippe Varin, the group will be able, with all the teams, to unlock its potential.

“Varin will begin familiarising himself with the activities of the group from 15 April 2009. Until he officially starts in June, Roland Vardanega, member of the managing board, will act as interim chairman.

Prior to joining Corus, Varin spent a number of years at Pechiney.

He joined Corus as chief executive in April 2003 and rapidly turned around the loss-making company before successfully orchestrating the merger with Tata Steel in March 2007 as a way for the business to participate in the consolidation of the steel industry.

He was asked to stay with the business in order to complete the integration of the company into the new group.

Meanwhile, Streiff defended his record at the French carmaker.

He told Reuters his policies had allowed the PSA group to be “well equipped to face the crisis.” He cited a cost-cutting plan, significant inventory reductions and the launch of several new models.

“The economic and financial community hailed these results. Thus I cannot understand the board’s decision,” he said.

But Peugeot last month posted a EUR343m (US$460m) net loss and said it expected to stay in the red until 2010.

PSA is Europe’s second largest carmaker by sales behind Volkswagen. It has faced a string of difficulties in recent months, Reuters noted.

On 11 February, it revealed unexpected losses for 2008 after outlays of nearly EUR1bn to slash stocks of unsold cars. It said it would cut inventories and limit cash burn in 2009 as the global economic crisis ravages car sales.

France’s government has offered EUR3bn in loans to shore up PSA and Renault and billions more to their many suppliers to help them weather the storm.

Streiff, previously at aircraft maker Airbus and glassmaker Saint-Gobain, became PSA’s CEO in February 2007. He succeeded Jean-Martin Folz who retired after 10 years as head of the French carmaker.

Streiff was tasked with improving PSA’s profit margin after years of weak results.

Last May, he was hospitalised after a health incident which was never detailed. He returned to work in July and said at the time he had completely recovered.

But question marks had remained over his health and analysts, complaining that PSA’s strategy to weather the crisis was unclear, speculated that he would not be effective as CEO, the news agency noted.