Steve Harris, who served as a communications executive during the resurgence of two Detroit auto makers, will announce his retirement today from General Motors Corp., Ward’s has learned.

GM Communications chief Steve Harris is retiring Jan. 1.

Harris has served as executive vice president-communications at GM since 1999. He will be replaced by Tom Kowaleski, vice president-GM North America Communications, effective Jan. 1, Ward’s is told. A GM spokesman confirms the executive moves.

Harris’ retirement is no surprise. His departure has been rumored for some time and Harris has spent a considerable amount of time recently working from a newly built home in New Mexico. “(GM Chairman and CEO) Rick (Wagoner) convinced him to stay a couple of extra years,” the GM spokesman says.

Kowaleski’s replacement has not been named.

Before joining GM in February 1999, Harris served as senior vice president of communications at Chrysler Group, handling the news frenzy that exploded with the November 1998 merger of Chrysler Corp. and Daimler-Benz AG.

Other than being involved in the auto industry’s biggest merger in history, Harris is known for helping to revive the downtrodden image of Chrysler in the early 1990s and GM in the late 1990s. He provided sneak peeks of future products to journalists and opened up media access to top-level company executives.

Harris began his career at GM in 1967. During the next 12 years he held a number of positions, including regional public relations posts in Cleveland, Los Angeles and Indianapolis. In 1979 he joined American Motor Corp. as director of product relations. Eight years later, with Chrysler’s purchase of AMC, Harris became director of corporate public relations. He was named vice president of communications at Chrysler in January 1998.