DETROIT -- Mark Hogan's departure from General Motors leaves a void.
Who will become Robert Lutz's designated successor as head of product development?
Industry observers viewed Hogan as the heir apparent after he became GM's group vice president of advanced vehicle development in early 2002. But Hogan last week accepted the post of president of Canadian auto supplier Magna International Inc.
The departure pushes GM to look for other candidates. Former Chrysler group executive Wolfgang Bernhard is rumored to be a possibility, but GM insiders reject that likelihood.
David Cole, president of the Center for Automotive Research in Ann Arbor, Mich., says Lutz is looking for "car guys" to succeed him.
"One of the things he has said very publicly is that he's trying to identify the people internally," Cole says. "He's got a pretty good list internally."
Cole questioned whether Hogan met Lutz's criteria as a "car guy," saying Hogan was "more of a business guy."
The issue has lost urgency, Cole says, because Lutz's original three-year term has been extended indefinitely. But GM needs executives who combine a passion for cars with the savvy to work with engineering, marketing, finance and manufacturing interests.
If Lutz's post retains a vice chairman rank, both Gary Cowger, president of GM North America, and Jim Queen, GM North America vice president for engineering, could be candidates, Cole says. Vehicle line executives who are responsible for developing specific vehicle groups also could be in the running.
Hogan was on the fast track to the top ranks of GM during his early career. But he encountered a setback in 1999.
As general manager of the small-car division of GM's North America car group, Hogan promoted the automaker's modular manufacturing system, called Yellowstone. It made heavy use of supplier-built components.
Then-UAW President Steve Yokich objected to Hogan's public comments about the system. GM shifted Hogan to head its Internet business, e-GM. The company kept the manufacturing system but ditched the Yellowstone name.