DETROIT -- General Motors has named a longtime labor relations and manufacturing executive to run its North American factories during one of its busiest-ever vehicle launch periods.
Gerald Johnson, now executive director of global program quality and launch, will become GM's new vice president of North America manufacturing, effective July 1. Johnson, 51, will oversee 74,000 employees across 56 plants.
He succeeds Diana Tremblay, who last week was put in charge of a new division that aims to eliminate nearly $2 billion a year in administrative and other costs in areas such as human resources and facilities management.
The transition comes in the midst of the rollout of GM's full-sized pickups, its most important launches since its 2009 bankruptcy.
The redesigned 2014 Chevrolet Silverado and GMC Sierra began reaching dealerships at the end of May. GM is launching crew cab models first -- the most popular variant -- followed by extended cabs and regular body styles in late summer and fall.
GM executives have said that the pickup launch is going smoothly so far. The trucks are GM's highest-volume models in North America and account for the lion's share of the company's profits in its most lucrative region.
Other key launches include the redesigned Chevy Impala, which was rolled out in May; the redesigned Cadillac CTS, expected to hit showrooms this fall; and the next generation of GM's big SUVs, including the Chevy Suburban and GMC Yukon, planned for early 2014.
GM says it will have replaced 70 percent of its U.S. lineup with new or significantly overhauled vehicles between late 2012 and mid-2014.
Johnson is a GM lifer. He started his career in 1980 at the company's Fisher Body Plant in Euclid, Ohio, and has held a number of positions in labor relations and stamping at several GM plants. He also served as executive director of manufacturing in Zurich.
In March, Johnson was named to his current post in a new business unit aimed at improving quality through greater use of customer feedback. He has focused on strategies to improve product launches, according to GM.
He has a bachelor's degree in industrial administration from Kettering University and a master's in manufacturing operations from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
Johnson will report to Tim Lee, head of global manufacturing and president of GM's International Operations division, which includes China.
In a statement, Lee said of Johnson: "He leads by example as a mentor and strong communicator, engaging his full team to ensure we build only the best for our customers."