More stories related to Geneva Motor Show GENEVA – The extensive shuffling of executives recently announced by General Motors Corp. is just another step by the auto maker to become a truly global organization rather than a reaction to lagging U.S. sales and market share, says a top official.

GM yesterday reassigned nine executives from various areas of GM, including powertrain and design, but a bulk of the media attention has focused on the movement of several sales executives.

John Smith, who had been group vice president-GM North America Vehicle, Sales, Service and Marketing, was named to a newly created position – group vice president of global product planning. Mark LaNeve, formerly GM North America advertising and marketing vice president, succeeds Smith. (See related story: GM Management Changes Focus on Growth)

Bob Lutz

“All the papers in the U.S. read: ‘Smith out, LaNeve in.’ But this is really the day GM finally became a global company,” Bob Lutz, GM vice chairman-product development, says here at the Geneva auto show. “For too long, GM essentially acted as four different companies that were stitched together under the corporate umbrella. That worked well until, I’d say, about 10 years ago.”

Now, the activities of GM’s four automotive-business regions will converge at considerably lower levels of the company rather than only at senior-executive positions, Lutz says. “Today was a watershed movement,” he adds.

Lutz concedes the individual authority of GM’s regional presidents has been impacted by the realignment. “There’s no question,” he says. “But we all understand the scale of the business has changed. Toyota (Motor Corp.) and Honda (Motor Co. Ltd.) have run their business on a global basis. I’d say we’re a little late.”

Lutz notes the newly formed Global Automotive Product Board includes the regional presidents. “I can’t overemphasize the importance of this,” Lutz says. “It is devoted to purely discussion of the product – where we go, how much we invest, which region gets what. That’s something I don’t think the company has ever had before.”

"It sounds like Bob Lutz is tuning up the organization for world combat," says Jim Hossack, a consultant with AutoPacific, an automotive research and consulting firm. "GM has talked about going more global, and now it's making people responsible for going global."

But some industry observers say GM Chairman Rick Wagoner may have been forced into the move.

"The rumor is that Rick has been under pressure from the GM board to get things turned around, and this move may be one of the steps in response to the board," says Joe Phillippi, a principal with AutoTrends, an automotive consulting firm.

"It takes more than new people, it takes new product and new processes. Lots of promises have been made and now GM must deliver," he says. "It may be a situation in which, as the new team takes over, they'll start to get definitive results in terms of new vehicles in the portfolio.

"But you can't make a judgment yet until you see how the team executes. GM has brought out a lot of new hardware and has lots more in its portfolio. But where it has yet to prove itself and where it has fallen short the last few years is in no blockbuster new product," Phillippi says.

– with Jim Mateja in Chicago

bcorbett@primediabusiness.com