American Ed Welburn is the favorite to replace Wayne Cherry as head of design at General Motors, GM sources and industry observers say.
But four other GM designers, including Opel design boss Martin Smith, are candidates.
Welburn, 52, is GM's executive director of body-on-frame vehicles and Cherry's most senior assistant.
His tenure includes 20 years of experience in the Oldsmobile studio and as head designer of the Chevrolet SSR pickup roadster.
The British-born Smith, 53, was named head of Opel design in May 2002. He joined the company as director of design for the Astra in 1997. He previously held design jobs at Audi and BMW.
Besides Welburn and Smith, three GM designers are subjects of industry speculation: Bryan Nesbitt, executive director for unibody vehicles; Anne Asensio, executive director for advanced vehicles; and Dave Rand, executive director for interiors, quality and brand character.
"If I wanted to hazard a guess, I would say it's Ed," says Carl Olsen, a former director of style at Citroen and professor emeritus of auto design at the College for Creative Studies in Detroit.
Welburn, a GM lifer, is a calm and congenial presence.
"Ed certainly has all the qualifications in my mind," says a GM design source. "He has a unique personality. It takes a lot to get Ed off balance."
Nesbitt, who helped pen the Chrysler PT Cruiser before moving to GM in 2001, is a respected talent, but at 34 may be too young.
One scenario has Nesbitt moving to Opel, with Smith coming to Detroit. But Olsen and other sources say Opel would resist losing Smith, who has not completed revamping design there.
GM lured Asensio from Renault in 2000. She was part of the team that designed the Megane Scenic minivan, Clio supermini and Twingo mini.
Cherry turned 65 last September, and is expected to retire this September.