Head of Opel quits over GM strategy

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The Independent Online
ONE OF General Motors' top European car executives has resigned in a fresh sign of management upheaval at Opel, the American automotive group's German subsidiary.

In a statement issued at the weekend through GM's European headquarters in Zurich, GM chairman and chief executive officer Jack Smith confirmed that Hans William Gab, 62, vice-president of GM Europe and chairman of Opel's supervisory board is leaving Opel after 18 years owing to "differing perceptions of the company's business strategy".

Mr Gab, a former member of Germany's Olympic Committee, has been described as "the conscience of Opel in GM".

The departure comes days after it emerged that Opel's new chief executive, Gary Cowger, was being recalled to Detroit after just four months in the job to help patch up labour relations in the US after this year's damaging United Autoworkers strike, which cost the firm more than $2bn in lost output.

Opel will confirm that Mr Cowger is to be replaced by Robert Hendry, now head of GM's Swedish subsidiary Saab, at a meeting of its supervisory board today.

Opel, whose plant in Russelsheim is the main research, development and design centre for GM's European operations, including Vauxhall, has struggled to regain market share after losing nearly $140m (pounds 83m) last year.

Mr Cowger's arrival in May as a replacement for David Herman, Opel's longest-serving chief executive, caused deep unhappiness in Germany. Mr Herman was transferred to Moscow to run GM's operations there after six years in the job.

The appointment of a non-German was received poorly in Germany, which is still very protective of its car industry and regards Opel as German despite decades of US ownership.

Local managers have complained that Opel's quality control has suffered in the firm's $2.7bn drive to boost sales in emerging markets.