A new year often brings with it plenty of new faces in top management at auto makers, and 2002 is proving to be no different.

At BMW AG, Joachim Milberg will step down in May as chairman of the parent company's board of management, a year earlier than anticipated. Milberg took over in February 1999 after then-chairman Bernd Pischetsrieder was pushed out in a boardroom coup for failing to revive Britain's Rover Cars, which he campaigned to buy.

Though Milberg has enjoyed the respect of the Quandt family, which controls BMW, it was not a role he was comfortable with, preferring his former engineering field instead. Those close to him say the former professor most likely will return to teaching.

Helmut Panke, BMW board member in charge of financial affairs, will succeed him. Insiders say they believe Milberg is bowing out at the perfect time with BMW sales riding high. And bean counter Panke is coming in at an equally opportune time, just as the global economy is being laid low.

Panke will go up against his former boss, Pischetsrieder, who after his firing at BMW moved over to Volkswagen, where he recently was tapped to succeed Chairman Ferdinand Piech when he retires in April.

General Motors Corp. announces the retirement of Asia/Pacific chief Rudy Schlais and the promotion of Service Parts Operations General Manager John F. Smith.

Schlais' scheduled retirement May 1 sets off a chain reaction of executive moves that includes Smith taking over as vice president of sales, service and parts. The replacement for Schlais, who is 61 and a 42-year GM veteran, is Fritz Henderson, leader of GM's Latin America, Mideast and Africa operations.

President of GM Canada Maureen Kempston Darkes moves south to take Henderson's spot. Smith replaces another rising executive, Michael Grimaldi, who supplants Kempston Darkes.