DETROIT -- The sudden departure of Joel Ewanick leaves General Motors struggling with uncertainty atop its marketing division just ahead of one of the automaker's busiest vehicle-launch schedules in its history.
On Sunday, Ewanick, 52, was ousted as global chief marketing officer. GM spokesman Greg Martin said Ewanick "failed to meet the expectations the company has of an employee." He didn't elaborate.
Alan Batey, who in May was promoted from Chevrolet sales boss to vice president of U.S. sales and service for all of GM, was named to replace Ewanick as interim global marketing chief.
The Wall Street Journal said today GM has signed a multimillion-dollar sponsorship with Manchester United, one of Britain's top soccer teams, after altering terms of the deal negotiated by Ewanick.
In May, Ewanick secured a broad sponsorship deal with the popular soccer team. He selected Chevrolet, rather that GM's ailing Opel brand, for the soccer pact to elevate Chevrolet's global profile, the paper said.
The Wall Street Journal, Reuters and Bloomberg -- citing people familiar with the matter -- said earlier Ewanick was removed for failing to adequately appraise the financial details of the Manchester deal.
In addition to the pact with Manchester United, one of the world's most visible soccer teams, GM recently inked a sponsorship deal with Liverpool FC. Both teams are part of the English Premier League.
Under a seven-year deal announced today, which makes Chevrolet the jersey sponsor starting in the 2014-2015 season, GM will pay $60 million to $70 million a year -- at least double the current fee paid by insurance broker Aon, Reuters reported, citing a source it did not identify.
GM also will pay the club a $100 million activation fee, sources told Reuters.
GM and Manchester United officials declined to reveal terms of the deal, which is separate from the sponsorship agreement announced in May with Manchester United, Reuters said.
Terms of that five-year deal were not disclosed, but analysts said it is likely worth at least tens of millions of dollars.
The upheaval inside GM's marketing unit comes at a crucial time. By the end of next year, 70 percent of GM's nameplates will be new, redesigned or refreshed, the company says. That includes planned launches next year of GM's next-generation Chevrolet Silverado and GMC Sierra pickups as well as its redesigned SUVs, which traditionally are among its most profitable vehicles.
"Ewanick's departure may not be indicative of a problem with GM's marketing strategy or dissatisfaction with GM's market share," Morgan Stanley analyst Adam Jonas wrote today in a research note. "But it doesn't make things any easier."
Batey: GM lifer
Batey, 49, is a GM lifer who has spent most of his career in sales roles overseas, including a stint as head of GM's Holden Australian division before being called to Detroit in 2010.
Martin, the GM spokesman, said the company is "fortunate to have a deep bench and a leader of Alan's caliber to step in and keep things moving."
GM hired Ewanick as U.S. marketing chief in May of 2010. By the end of that year, he was put in charge of global marketing, then a new position.