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Car manufacturer chief steps down

The chief executive of General Motors' loss-making European business has abruptly stepped down, a sign that the carmaker's top management wants to speed up what has been a slow-moving restructuring plan.

Karl-Friedrich Stracke stepped down just two weeks after presenting a new plan to rebuild the struggling European Opel and Vauxhall brands and return them to profitability.

A statement said that he will stay with GM and take on special projects, reporting to chief executive Dan Akerson.

GM vice-chairman Steve Girsky, the head of Opel's board of directors and a company troubleshooter, will serve as acting chief of European operations while the company searches for Mr Stracke's replacement.

The surprise moves show that GM's upper management is growing more impatient with the slow pace of change in Europe as the economy deteriorates faster than expected, said Michael Robinet, managing director of IHS Automotive, a consulting firm near Detroit.

"Change of leadership really denotes a new direction is required, maybe a new speed at which some of the changes will occur," he said. "It also signals to labour that it's a new sheriff in town."

The US carmaker wants to make a profit on its European business, which includes Opel and the Vauxhall brand in Britain, despite tough competition among mass-market carmakers.

Opel and Vauxhall have been a drag on the company's earnings for a dozen years, including a 256 million US dollar loss in the first quarter and 747 million US dollars last year.

Stockholders and analysts have questioned whether GM is moving fast enough to stem the losses and restructure in Europe, where GM has too many factories and workers for the number of cars it sells.

The faltering European macro economy has created a situation where plant closings and other restructuring moves may now be more palatable to unions and governments as auto companies struggle, said Mr Robinet.

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