May 10, 2011 / 3:41 AM / 7 years ago

UPDATE 1-Former GM CEO Stempel dies at age 77

(Changes source, adds GM comments in paragraph 8)

DETROIT, May 9 (Reuters) - Robert Stempel, the first engineer to become the chief executive of General Motors Co , died on Saturday in Florida. He was 77.

Stempel joined GM in 1958 as a detailer in the Oldsmobile chassis design department. He also became Chevrolet’s director of engineering and managing director of Opel in Germany.

When he was named CEO and chairman of GM in 1990, Wall Street hailed him as a “car guy” who could staunch the company’s losses and reverse GM’s declining market share with a revamped vehicle line-up.

But the day after Stempel took office, Aug. 1, 1990, Iraq invaded Kuwait and U.S. vehicle demand tumbled. He later joked that he had “one good day” as chairman, according to a 1992 Reuters profile of Stempel.

Stempel was ousted in 1992 after the board lost patience with higher losses at GM. His plan to restructure GM by closing 21 factories and laying off 74,000 workers also came under fire because he took too long to implement it.

He also agreed to a new contract with the United Auto Workers union that gave laid-off hourly workers 95 percent of their pay. At the time, analysts said the pact made GM’s restructuring much more costly.

While at GM, Stempel approved the development of the EV1, which would have been the first electric car to be sold by a mainstream automaker. The idea was scrapped after his departure.

“His knowledge of battery development led to the push for the EV1 electric car, and Bob continued to build his expertise in the electrification of the automobile after he left GM in 1992,” GM said in a statement.

After GM, Stempel became an ardent advocate for electric cars. In 1995, he became chairman of Energy Conversion Devices , where he worked 60 to 70 hours a week and visited clients around the world.

He retired as ECD’s CEO and chairman in 2007.

The Detroit Free Press had first reported the death of Stempel. (Reporting by Deepa Seetharaman in Detroit and Additional Reporting by Aftab Ahmed in Bangalore; Editing by Bernard Orr and Muralikumar Anantharaman)

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