Chairman Jack Smith wasted little time shaking up General Motors after the disastrous United Auto Workers strikes in the USA las summer. He talked to Ralph Kisiel and Edward Lapham about his future European plans for the company.
Now that you have reorganized overseas operations, are you going to change your global plan?
The product plan is in place. This new organization allows it to happen with a lot less effort. We'll move faster. The pace was too slow.
The executives who came out on top in the recent reorganization were all Americans. Are you trying to get more foreign executives into senior positions?
At the moment, we don't have many (foreign executives) in senior positions, but our clear intent is to do a better job. We've got good people, but our international operations tend to bury them for a long time before they rise up. Frankly, today you've got to start promoting good talent at a very young age.
There was resistance within Opel to your plan to let your European operations design cars for markets in Asia and South America.
The resistance really related to a feeling that we were moving too fast. Now, our plans are pretty well completed. With a slowdown in the world economy outside Europe and the USA, I don't see that as a huge problem going forward.
You paid a high price to bring former Opel Chairman Gary Cowger back to the USA. Why did you choose Cowger to be your labor relations chief for North America?
After the summer strikes, we took a hard look at who should be in that job. Out of that came a list of candidates. Frankly, Cowger came out on top. The second choice was a long way from Cowger.
What will 1999 sales look like in the rest of the world?
We should have a good year in Europe. Beyond that, things don't look very good. South America is in deep recession right now.
Most experts say the automakers will have to design smaller cars and trucks to cut carbon dioxide emissions.
In the European market, cars are getting smaller and people are moving to diesel engines. In fact, we've got a diesel engine shortage in Europe. The reason is that gas prices are going up. In North America, we should deal with global warming with a tax on gasoline.