King, a soft-spoken U.S. Army veteran who joined Ford in 1970, has been an advocate of the policies pursued by Gettelfinger over the past four years that have offered concessions to the U.S. automakers at a time of deepening financial problems for the industry.
King was the central figure in negotiating a new round of proposed concessions for Ford in October.
In a rebuke to union leadership, that proposed deal was overwhelmingly rejected by UAW-represented workers at the automaker who objected to a "no-strike" clause on wages and benefits.
Tiffany Ten Eyck, a commentator with the publication Labor Notes, said she expected that rank-and-file UAW members could push back at the choice of King after concessions that have brought wages for new hires to $14 per hour.
"With King, there will be no change in direction of the union," said Ten Eyck, whose publication is not affiliated with the UAW.
Gettelfinger, who has served two terms as UAW president, oversaw a period in which membership declined and wages and benefits for new hires were rolled back in a series of landmark agreements intended to shore up the competitiveness of GM, Ford and Chrysler.
Under Gettelfinger, the union also emerged as a major investor in both Chrysler and GM when the Obama administration put both of those companies through federally funded bankruptcies.
The UAW owns 17.5 percent of General Motors Co. and 55 percent of Chrysler through a trust fund for retiree health care benefits. Chrysler is being run by Fiat SpA..