General Motors Corp. elevates Frederick (Fritz) A. Henderson, currently vice chairman and chief financial officer, to president and chief operating officer, re-establishing a position that has laid dormant at the auto maker for several years.

In assuming his new position, Henderson, 49, in effect succeeds GM CEO Rick Wagoner, who was the last COO in 2000 and the last to have the title of president in 2003.

“There’s a lot going on at GM today,” Wagoner says. “The industry is in the midst of the largest technology transformation it has ever faced. And GM continues to implement a truly global automotive operating structure.

“It’s an opportune time to further bolster our top leadership structure; specifically, it’s the right time to reestablish GM’s traditional president and chief operating officer position. And Fritz Henderson is the right person to assume this role.”

Reporting to Henderson will be Thomas G. Stephens, 59, group vice president-global powertrain and global quality, as well as four regional presidents. Stephens is elevated to executive vice president as part of GM’s latest management moves.

Replacing Henderson as CFO is Ray Young, currently group vice president-finance. Like Stephens, Young also has been elected an executive vice president.

The move, for now, would appear to make Henderson a leading candidate to succeed Wagoner as CEO some day.

“The promotion of Fritz Henderson to president and chief operating officer, along with (product-development chief) Bob Lutz’s continued success at transforming our global product activities, and the promotions of Ray Young and Tom Stephens, will further solidify our leadership structure for today and the future,” says George Fisher, presiding director of the GM board.