Carl-Peter Forster will be leaving his role as head of European operations and “will advise” the company during the transition to find a new CEO, it was announced by GM today.
Insiders say Forster was taken by surprise by the sudden reversal on Monday by the GM Board of Directors to reject a sale of Opel/Vauxhall to Canadian auto supplier Magna and Sberbank, a large Russian financial institution.
Forster had been a vocal supporter of the sale, as had been German Chancellor Angela Merkel and the German Metal Workers union. The Magna sale was thought to protect more jobs and plants in Germany, while imposing greater burdens on Opel/Vauxhall operations elsewhere in Europe, than a competing bid from a Belgium based investment group.
It was not immediately clear if Forster was pushed out or he left in a dispute over how many jobs and plants would be closed in an impending revised Opel reorganization, which will be undertaken by GM alone, if government and labor union approvals are forthcoming. Perhaps, Forster pushed the Board too hard to accept a German favored solution.
GM claimed that no other management changes to the Opel Europe organization are being considered at this time, and that all key management roles remain while the search for a CEO for Opel Europe commences.
GM insiders say it needs to cut at least 30% in structural costs, eliminate 10,000 jobs and close one or more plants for Opel to be viable. The cost of the restructuring is estimated at €3 billion, or $4.5 billion.
Forster will be replaced temporarily by Nick Reilly, the British head of GM’s international operations.
GM said it will initiate an immediate external search for a new CEO for Opel and will work with Opel leadership, along with representatives of the European Employees Forum, in “moving forward with a plan that will build a strong and enduring future” for the Opel/Vauxhall brands.
“The Opel brand has made tremendous progress under Carl-Peter’s tenure and leadership over the past several years,” said GM President and CEO Fritz Henderson, whose own status with the new GM board of directors, comprised largely of non-automotive executives, is unknown.
Steven Rattner, a key member of the U.S. Treasury’s Auto Task Force, said in a speech last month that he was shocked by how weak GM finance staff was and how inadequate the GM reorganization plan was when it was submitted to Treasury. Henderson was in charge of developing the plan and is a product of that same finance staff. The plan was rejected, and the Obama Administration forced the failed company into bankruptcy.
Henderson was polite about Forster’s unexpected and unexplained exit.
“We thank him for his significant accomplishments and wish him only the best in the future. In the meantime, we’re confident that the key personnel leading Opel will stay focused on running the business during this time of transition,” Henderson said.
Henderson also said in a statement, “We expect to finalize our proposals for establishing Opel/Vauxhall’s future next week and will be engaging all stakeholders to see how we can best work together in achieving our mutual goals. We will update on our progress as soon as is possible.”
“The past few years building the Opel brand has been a tremendous personal opportunity,” said Forster. “We’ve seen great strides in design, quality and technology and the launch of truly world-class products. It’s been an honor to be part of the history of Opel, and I wish all the people with the organization only the best in what I’m certain will be a great future.”
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