THE BIG challenge in the post-merger era is how car companies will organize themselves.
Renault/Nissan, DaimlerChrysler/Mitsubishi and Ford's Premier Automotive Group are struggling with how to manage bulging portfolios of brands.
It won't be easy. It's the kind of dilemma pan-European companies have faced for a long time as they try to bring order to collections of national fiefdoms.
And what works in one era does not always work in another. In 1986, General Motors borrowed Ford of Europe's formula. GM's European headquarters was moved from Opel in Germany to neutral Zurich. The idea was to reduce Opel's dominance over the rest of Europe as GM built up in places like Zaragoza, Spain, and Antwerp, Belgium.
The strategy worked. GM's manufacturing network was cleverly coordinated by Jack Smith - then the No. 2 man in Europe, later the No. 1 man everywhere.
With help from some great products, GM Europe spent five years in full roar. A whole new generation of leaders took root in Zurich - Smith, Rick Wagoner, Lou Hughes, Ignacio Lopez, Bob Hendry and several others.
But was GM's two-headed approach - installing a GM Europe president to watch over the chairman of Opel - really such a great idea?
The clash between Zurich-based GM Europe/International boss Hughes and Opel chief David Herman in 1997 seemed one of personalities. But the problems were part structural.
That became apparent when reports surfaced of friction between current GM Europe boss Michael Burns and Opel Chairman Bob Hendry. Sitting in a room together, Burns and Hendry seem to get along fine. But they have oddly conflicting interests.
GM Europe looks fine on an organization chart - the president supervises all national operations, including Opel, Vauxhall, GM Continental in Antwerp, GM Spain and the rest.
But Opel is a lot more equal than the others. Hendry is more than a brand manager, he runs a vast manufacturing complex in Europe's biggest car market.
The head of Opel is by definition all-powerful; the head of GM Europe comes off like a glorified staff job.
GM needs to redesign its lines of authority in Europe. It should consider a CEO/COO configuration, such as Ford of Europe has revived with Chairman Nick Scheele and President David Thursfield. Those guys get along great.
Burns' job is vital - someone has to look out for Europe without being pinned down by the people and pressures of Russelsheim. But GM Europe needs a chief operating officer to run Opel every day.
President Rick Wagoner says talk of restructuring GM Europe is wrong; a rumor. GM ought to make it a fact.