General Motors Co. is putting more emphasis on tapping the growing markets of South America, splintering off a new regional organization from the auto maker’s former Latin America, Africa and Middle East operations.

GM South America will be headquartered in Sao Paulo and come under the direction of Jaime Ardila, currently president and general manager of GM Mercosur. As president of the new arm, Ardila will report directly to GM Chairman and CEO Ed Whitacre.

The new organization will oversee sales and manufacturing operations in Brazil, Argentina, Colombia, Ecuador and Venezuela and sales activities in Bolivia, Chile, Paraguay, Peru and Uruguay. Currently, 29,000 people are employed in the group.

GM says it has sold 394,000 vehicles in the region through May, earning the auto maker a 20.2% market share.

GM International Operations will continue to be responsible for remaining former LAAM operations, but Whitacre says taking South America out of GMIO will allow the group to focus on other growth markets.

“The GM International Operations team is doing a great job expanding our global presence,” he says in a statement. “However, with the rapidly growing markets in Asia, the Middle East and Russia, we need the GMIO team focused exclusively on those countries that are critical to our growth.”

The reorganization also will see Denise C. Johnson, currently vice president-Labor Relations, take over as president and managing director of GM do Brasil Ltda. on July 1. She will report to Ardila.

Succeeding Johnson is Catherine L. Clegg, GM North America manufacturing manager. A replacement for Clegg will be named later, the auto maker says.