GM's Stracke steps down as Europe chief; Girsky named interim head
Opel will see its fourth CEO in less than three years
Karl-Friedrich Stracke was due to address an industry conference in Munich earlier today.
MUNICH (Reuters) -- Opel's Karl-Friedrich Stracke stepped down from his position as CEO of the embattled European carmaker to take on "special assignments," where he will report to General Motors CEO Dan Akerson.
"GM Vice Chairman Steve Girsky, currently Chairman of the Opel Supervisory Board, will serve as acting head of GM's European operations as the company searches for a replacement. The supervisory board of Adam Opel AG will be convened soon to appoint an interim chairman of the management board," GM said in a statement today.
Stracke, 56, was due to address an industry conference in Munich earlier in the day, but development chief Rita Forst came instead.
"Karl Stracke worked tirelessly, under great pressure, to stabilize this business and we look forward to building on his success. We appreciate Karl's many contributions to GM's success," Akerson said in the statement.
Earlier today, ailing alliance partner Peugeot said it would cut 8,000 jobs and close the Aulnay, France, plant in 2014.
Stracke became president of GM Europe on Jan. 1 after assuming command of the Adam Opel division in April 2011.
Girsky, 50, last year was named to head the supervisory board of Opel.
Analysts said the move showed the U.S. automaker's growing intolerance for losses in Europe.
Akerson, who oversaw GM regaining its title of world's largest automaker last year and posting a record full-year profit of $9.19 billion, is pushing the company to fix its European operations, which have lost $16.4 billion since 1999.
"We've lost $14 billion in the last 12 years. It's got to stop," Akerson said of Europe on June 28. "We're looking at some sort of agreement with our unions that would allow us to consolidate."
Two weeks ago, the supervisory board for Opel approved a mid-term business plan in a step toward returning to profitability. But real savings in a restructuring will not come until GM negotiates a deal with labor unions to close the Bochum, Germany, plant after 2016.
"This is a clear sign that GM was getting impatient and that Girsky believes he can do a better job," IHS Automotive analyst Christoph Stuermer said. "Remember that they did not call the business plan that was passed on June 28 a 'restructuring plan.' If they had a clear candidate waiting in the wings they would have named him today."
The change means Opel will see its fourth CEO in less than three years. Hans Demant was pushed aside in November 2009 and was replaced two months later by Nick Reilly, who lasted until April 2011.
Demant was more of a symbolic head who reported to European chief Carl-Peter Forster, who left in 2009 after GM killed a deal to sell Opel.
German labor officials, who said they had worked well with Stracke, were caught off guard by the news.
"It's regrettable" said Armin Schild, Opel board member and regional head of the union IG Metall. "GM is now responsible for finding someone with a forward thinking corporate strategy. Its important that the agreements we reached with the company remain in place."
One Opel board member initially did not believe the news of Stracke's exit, while a person close to labor representatives on the board said they were caught "completely by surprise." Both asked not to be identified in discussing the management change.
The head of the German state government in Hesse, home to the headquarters of Opel, voiced fears GM would renege on labor guarantees in light of Stracke's exit.
Opel has been in talks with its German unions over extending a deal that protects all four factories in the country from closure through the end of 2014 by an additional two years in exchange for wage concessions and an agreement to close the Bochum plant in 2017. Hesse state premier Volker Bouffier called on GM to honor its commitments.
In 2009, GM decided Opel was too strategic a part of its global business to sell. However, the eurozone debt crisis led consumers in the region to pull back on spending, causing GM last year to abandon its target for break-even results in Europe for the full year.
Last year, GM retained turnaround consultants AlixPartners to help in Opel's restructuring, and in February Opel named Thomas Sedran, one of the firm's European auto practice heads, to its board with responsibility for operations, business development and corporate strategy.
A labor source previously told Reuters that Sedran, who has worked closely with Opel since 2009, looked as if he was being groomed to lead Opel.
Bloomberg contributed to this report.Contact Automotive News