UPDATE 1-GM exec says South Korea plants may ship more cars to Australia

Tue Jan 14, 2014 9:36pm EST

* Jacoby says Australia plant shutdown offers "a lot of opportunity"

* GM is building puzzle pieces together globally - Jacoby

* GM incoming CEO Barra says committed to Korean market

By Hyunjoo Jin

DETROIT, Jan 14 (Reuters) - A top executive with General Motors said on Tuesday a planned shutdown of the automaker's plants in Australia could allow South Korea to ship more cars to the region.

General Motors said last month it would stop making cars in Australia by 2017 due to high costs and a cripplingly strong currency. The announcement came after the U.S. automaker said it plans to pull the Chevrolet brand out of Europe by the end of 2015 to concentrate on Opel.

"We are building our puzzle pieces together for the international markets," Stefan Jacoby, GM's new international operations chief, told reporters on the sidelines of the Detroit auto show.

He said the planned shutdown of the Australian plants offers "a lot of opportunity," adding there was a "good likelihood" South Korea would ship more cars to Australia given a bilateral trade deal. Jacoby said no decision had been made yet.

The Chevy pullout plan sparked jitters in Korea about restructuring of GM Korea's operations, which supply most of the Chevy cars sold in Europe.

Mary Barra, the incoming CEO of General Motors, told reporters that GM "remains very committed to the Korean market."

When asked about concerns about higher labour costs in South Korea, she said, "From a competitive perspective it (labour cost) is very important. So it's something that we continually look at."

She did not comment on whether GM's increased production in China would lead to reduced output in the neighboring South Korea.

"...as I said our general intent is to build where we sell. And I don't have any specific. I mean we are continually evaluating what is the most optimal but no specific comments on that."

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