GENERAL MOTORS may shift its international headquarters from Zurich back to the USA to end a bitter power struggle inside its European operations.
Under a plan being considered, GM International President Lou Hughes would move to GM headquarters in Detroit along with his top lieutenants.
At the same time, Hughes' plan to replace Adam Opel Chairman Dave Herman with Gary Cowger is going ahead smoothly, on the delayed schedule that Herman proposed.
GM confirmed that it is 'studying the possibility of moving a small group of GM International Operations senior executives from Zurich to Detroit.' Sources say that Hughes would be among them.
Hughes oversees Europe as well as growing GM operations in Asia and South America.
He has clashed with some executives and union leaders at Opel, GM Europe's biggest and most important subsidiary. Opel insiders complain that Hughes' aggressive international expansion has strained Opel resources, personnel and product programs.
The new plan came to light following a visit by General Motors Chairman Jack Smith to Europe. Smith was in Zurich on 16 February for a lengthy meeting with GM's European Strategy Board. Sources say Smith came to discuss disappointing results and management turmoil at GM Europe.
According to the GM statement, 'We began this study in light of recent initiatives that have accelerated the globalization of GM, including the formation of the global GM Powertrain and GM Truck groups, both headquartered in Detroit.'
GM expects to announce any relocations before the end of summer.
Hughes moved the international headquarters from Detroit to Zurich after being promoted to his current job in 1992. He has been in Europe since 1987. Before being named GM's top international executive, he was chairman of Opel and then president of GM Europe.
His staff in Zurich includes five GM International vice presidents, responsible for finance, planning, personnel, legal and public affairs.
Sources say Hughes told Opel union officials at a private meeting in Germany last month that he is considering returning to North America. At the meeting, Cowger was introduced as a potential Herman successor. Union leaders like Cowger, who has been GM Europe's manufacturing vice president since January.
The Opel supervisory board announced that it would not consider executive changes at its 23 March meeting, which is an endorsement of Herman. The next scheduled meeting is June.
Herman had proposed delaying his transfer until summer to let passions cool down. The unions had threatened to fight his transfer, and the delay prevents that battle.
According to an Opel source, 'We want to avoid further conflicts.'