While it may be a blow to GM’s ego to part ways with a company it has owned since 1929 and which has been a key source for engineering and product development, not everyone agrees it’s a full-scale retreat.

David E. Cole, chairman emeritus of the Center for Automotive Research and a longtime industry insider, tells WardsAuto: “Yes, it’s a retreat – but a very smart retreat. I would have felt (in the past) it was a true retreat, but not anymore. It’s a real horserace now, and if you’re not a cost and technology leader you’re going to lose.”

Cole, the son of former GM President Edward Cole, vividly recalls GM’s days as an unparalleled global powerhouse.

“ʽWe’re No.1’ is still around,” he says. “We still have a love affair with volume. But the industry is shifting to advanced technology – autonomous vehicles and mobility – with new entries like Google and Apple, and that reduces the focus strictly on volume” because it’s going to take solid profits to compete.

Cole, however, agrees GM stands “to lose some expertise” long provided by Opel that has included development of cars produced in the U.S.

A series of cascading trends have made it rough going for Opel these days. Among them: European overcapacity, increased competition from Japanese and South Korean automakers, lack of a meaningful light-truck business or high-profit premium car lineup and a strong export market, all of which are enjoyed by its primary competitors. Opel also has been handcuffed by restrictions on plant closures and workforce reductions.

Most analysts, perhaps less emotional than those who view the deal as a blow to GM’s stature, think it bodes well for the company’s future because it frees up money to invest in more profitable ventures.

Still, some GM boosters were stunned by the Opel-sale move. “I could not believe it,” says one GM-watcher. “I think it’s a big mistake.”

That view, however, is not fully shared by former GM Vice Chairman Bob Lutz, who has held high posts in Europe at Ford, BMW and GM.

“It may be sad to see General Motors exit Europe with the Opel/Peugeot merger, but maybe it was time,” Lutz tells WardsAuto. “GM is doing fine in the U.S. and China, while Opel has been a constant and costly drag on (GM’s) profitability.”

Based on GM’s historical record, the Opel spin-off should not be too surprising. It has undergone dozens of withdrawals from major industries, markets and ties with foreign automakers while shedding components- and light-vehicle-manufacturing divisions.

GM, for decades the world’s largest automaker, has slipped behind Volkswagen and Toyota. Losing Opel’s 1.6 million annual sales will drop it even further behind.

Back home, GM typically captured 50%-plus of the U.S. car market in the 1950s and 1960s, and there even were threats in Washington that it should be broken up because it was becoming a monopoly.

As recently as 1976 GM commanded 48% of the U.S. market. It’s still No.1, although its current U.S. light-vehicle share wavers between 17% and 18%.

GM also sold two European automakers it once owned, Sweden’s Saab and England’s Lotus Cars, and recently pulled out of Russia, Thailand, and Indonesia, while its Australian Holden subsidiary exited manufacturing, remaining only as a sales and marketing organization. GM also has terminated a plan to establish Chevrolet in Europe that had befuddled some company-watchers.