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Wagoner forced out at GM

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Wagoner forced out at GM

Christine Tierney and David Shepardson / The Detroit News

General Motors Corp. Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Rick Wagoner is stepping down immediately after being asked by the Obama administration to give up his position at the helm of the largest U.S. automaker, people familiar with the situation said.

Wagoner’s departure comes on the eve of President Barack Obama’s scheduled presentation of his vision for the U.S. auto industry. The president has said he wants to help the struggling industry but faces mounting opposition to bailouts of businesses and industries.

GM declined to comment and it was not immediately clear who would succeed Wagoner, a GM lifer who became the company’s chief executive in 2000 and chairman in 2003.

Industry experts credit him with pushing through profound reforms at the 100-year-old company, but his critics say Wagoner moved too slowly.

After losing $82 billion since 2004, GM is now subsisting on federal loans as it struggles to survive one of the most perilous stretches in its history.

The company has received $13.4 billion from the government and is seeking up to $16.6 billion more.

"From the government’s perspective, they had to show a visible form of sacrifice," said David Cole, chairman of the Center for Automotive Research in Ann Arbor and the son of a former GM president.

"At one level I’m surprised," he said, "and at another level, not at all."

An Obama administration official said Sunday that the White House had sought his resignation and Wagoner had agreed.

GM has set a 9 a.m. conference call for Monday morning with top company officials. A person familiar with the matter said GM President and Chief Operating Officer Fritz Henderson would be named CEO on an interim basis.

Henderson has been carrying out the company’s restructuring on a day to day basis and knows the task force leaders.

Obama said earlier on Sunday that Detroit’s automakers had taken measures to improve their competitiveness.

"We think we can have a successful U.S. auto industry," he said on CBS’s news show "Face the Nation."

"But it’s got to be one that’s realistically designed to weather this storm and to emerge at the other end much more lean and mean and competitive than it currently is. And that’s going to mean a set of sacrifices from all parties — management, labor, shareholders, creditors, suppliers, dealers," Obama said.

The president is scheduled to present his strategy for the auto industry from the White House Grand Foyer at 11 a.m. on Monday.

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