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Published: 10/8/2009

GM's top sales exec departing amid slump

ASSOCIATED PRESS

DETROIT — Less than a week after reporting a sharp drop in September sales, GM said its U.S. sales chief is leaving as the automaker struggles to prop up its falling share of the market.

General Motors Co. CEO Fritz Henderson announced yesterday the departure of Mark LaNeve during a conference call with media and investors. Mr. LaNeve, 50, is taking a job outside the auto industry effective next Thursday, GM spokesman John McDonald said.

Susan Docherty, general manager of the company's Buick-GMC brand, was named to replace Mr. LaNeve, effective Oct. 16. Ms. Docherty, 46, also will become a member of the executive committee.

Mr. Henderson said she would “bring a new perspective to the position as she guides a new, lean, and customer-focused dealer network.”

GM's September U.S. sales plunged 45 percent, a big letdown that followed the government's “cash for clunkers” program in July and August. So far this year, its sales are down 36 percent.

GM's global market share stood at 11.9 percent in the third quarter, down from 12.4 percent in 2008, largely because of falling sales in the United States and Canada, Mr. Henderson said.

In the United States, GM's control of the market fell to 19.5 percent in the third quarter from 22.1 percent in 2008. Other regions are performing better than expected.

Mr. LaNeve has told dealers his exit was not a reflection of the company's product or marketing plans, Mr. McDonald said. He added the consolidation and closing of dealerships had taken a toll on him. GM had 6,375 U.S. dealers at the end of 2008 and expects to have 5,600 by year's end.

GM will fall short of its employment reduction targets by the end of 2009, Mr. Henderson said, but he's confident it will end the year with a competitive cost structure.

GM wanted to have 40,000 U.S. hourly workers but will have 49,000 by the end of the year. The CEO said early retirement and buyout offers worked but fell short of expectations.

GM had planned to employ 23,000 salaried workers by the end of 2009 but instead will have somewhere between 23,000 and 24,000, he said. That's because it has added some employees in technology and financial areas, and decided to keep its AC Delco parts operation rather than sell it, Mr. Henderson said.

He said the company is paying far more attention to products and customer issues than it did six months ago, when it was consumed with restructuring.



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