Daily Edition: Dec. 7, 2005

December 6, 2005

GM Brings Back  Henderson; Devine Retiring

A shake-up in senior management has been approved by a shaken General Motors board of directors, but the move leaves some observers wondering if there could be more to follow soon after the New Year.

The most significant - and unexpected - change comes with Frederick "Fritz" Henderson's appointment as GM's new Vice Chairman and Chief Financial Officer. Henderson had been serving as CEO of GM Europe, which has begun showing signs of recovery after years in the red. Henderson will replace the highly-regarded John Devine. Devine's five-year contract is now expiring, but there'd been no sense he planned to step aside until recently, when GM was forced to restate earnings for 2001, taking a hit of up to $400 million. Company officials insist the embarrassing move was not involved in Devine's planned retirement. He will become a vice chairman and spend up to a year assisting Henderson in the transition.

The new CFO is "an exceptionally strong fit," declared GM Chairman Rick Wagoner, in a prepared statement. Indeed, some observers believe Henderson may be the emperor-in-waiting as GM's board, and key investors such as Las Vegas billionaire Kirk Kerkorian, watch to see if Wagoner can succeed with the turnaround plan he announced last month.

With General Motors struggling to reverse mounting losses and fast-declining market share, and particularly in the wake of the decision to close five assembly plants, an executive shake-up comes as no surprise. A number of other senior executives were moved to new assignments or announced plans to depart in the coming months, including North American manufacturing chief Guy Briggs.

But at least one name was notably absent from the list. Frequent rumors in Detroit automotive circles had predicted Gary Cowger would step aside by year's end. In a previous management realignment, he'd been shifted from president of North American operations to group vice president of global manufacturing and labor relations. Many considered that a demotion, and suggested Cowger's career was winding down. But the GM veteran played a critical role in the recent, successful effort to negotiate a multi-billion-dollar healthcare deal with the United Auto Workers. One of many well-placed sources told TheCarConnection that Cowger "has no plans to retire any time soon." -TCC Team

GM Cutting 30,000 Jobs, Eight Plants by TCC Team (11/28/2005)
"Tough medicine," but no guarantees, says Wagoner.

Spy Shots: '07 Chrysler Aspen

Here's one more NAIAS scoop: Chrysler's upscale version of the Dodge Durango, to be sold as the Aspen. We expect to see the production version of this luxury SUV in January at the Detroit Auto Show, and in dealer showrooms sometime next fall.

Subaru to Build Toyotas in Indiana

Toyota's recent investment in Subaru parent Fuji Heavy Industries will pay off for the bigger company almost immediately, as the two companies have agreed to build Toyotas in the underused Subaru plant in West Lafayette, Ind. Wire reports indicate that the companies could begin building Camry sedans in the plant by the end of next year. Subaru will also send a technical team to Toyota for the development of a new vehicle, the Dow Jones Newswires adds. In addition Toyota is said to be in a search for locations for a new engine plant and a new assembly plant. The states of Michigan and Arkansas are said to be in the running for the new facilities, but no timeline has been confirmed.

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