FRANKFURT (Reuters) - General Motors Co GM.UL said on Friday the head of its European operations, Carl-Peter Forster, is leaving, three days after the automaker’s decision to scrap a planned sale of its Opel unit.
Forster, the son of a German diplomat and a former BMW (BMWG.DE) executive, had been widely expected to run the independent Opel that would have been split from GM in the sale of a controlling Opel stake to a Russian-backed group led by Canadian auto parts company Magna International Inc MGa.TO
Forster’s departure marks the first high-profile exit at Opel since GM’s board reversed course and said the automaker would keep the European unit and raise funds to restructure Opel on its own.
That decision touched off a storm of protests in Germany, where Magna had been seen as the best chance to preserve jobs.
Nick Reilly, current head of GM’s international operations, is set to lead GM’s looming reorganization of Opel, a person briefed on the plan said.
Reilly, a Briton, had worked as sales and marketing chief for GM Europe before moving to Asia to run GM operations there. His appointment was seen as a temporary move, the person said.
Meanwhile, Bob Lutz, who agreed to defer retirement earlier this year to head GM’s global marketing efforts, will become chairman of the Opel supervisory board, a second person said.
Lutz, 77, already sits on the Opel board and will maintain his current management responsibilities, said the person, who asked not to be named because the move has not been announced.
GM declined to comment on those moves.
Forster had spoken out in favor of the Magna deal just days before the board met to approve the sale in mid-September, straining relations with senior executives in Detroit.
“Carl-Peter Forster nailed his colors to the mast of Magna,” said an Opel labor representative who asked not to be named.
GM Chief Executive Fritz Henderson said in a statement that it has begun an external search for Forster’s replacement. The company said no other changes to the Opel management team are planned.
Shares of Magna have surged, with investors welcoming a renewed focus on its core parts business and with a surprise quarterly profit. The stock has gained 25 percent since Tuesday, when GM’s board abandoned the Opel sale plan.
GM also said it would brief European governments next week on its plan to restructure Opel and to raise 3 billion euros from governments in countries with Opel factories.
The goal is to cut fixed costs at Opel by 30 percent — in part by chopping Opel’s staff of 50,000 by a fifth — but details are scarce.
“There are signals from the company that GM will explain its plans next week. The German government is waiting for this explanation and will then evaluate it,” German government spokesman Christoph Steegmans said in Berlin.
Separately, the economy minister from the state of Thuringia told Reuters that Free Democrat politician Dirk Pfeil, a critic of the Magna deal, is being replaced on the trust that has overseen Opel since GM’s financial crisis.
The minister, Matthias Machnig, said the four states with Opel sites had agreed that Pfeil needed to go because he was not representing their interests.
Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin has suggested the Opel Trust — not GM — should have final say on the sale, but the trust had said it did not need to approve GM’s decision.
The trust, which controls a 65 percent stake in Opel, will dissolve once GM repays to Germany the rest of a 1.5 billion euro bridge loan due by the end of the month.
Additional reporting by Kevin Krolicki in Detroit, editing by Greg Mahlich