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GM CEO Wagoner to step down at White House request

Sunday, March 29, 2009 | 6:06 p.m. CDT

DETROIT — General Motors Corp. Chairman and CEO Rick Wagoner will step down immediately at the request of the White House, administration officials said Sunday. The news comes as President Barack Obama prepares to unveil additional restructuring efforts designed to save the domestic auto industry.

The officials asked not to be identified because details of the restructuring plan have not yet been made public. On Monday, Obama is to announce plans to restructure GM and Chrysler LLC in exchange for additional government loans. The companies have been living on $17.4 billion in government aid and have requested $21.6 billion more.

Wagoner's departure indicates that more management changes may be part of the deal. Wagoner, 56, has repeatedly said he felt it was better for the company if he led it through the crisis, but he has faced sharp criticism on Capitol Hill for what many lawmakers regard as years of missteps, mistakes and arrogance by the Big Three automakers.

Wagoner joined GM in 1977, serving in several capacities in the U.S., Brazil and Europe. He became president and chief executive in 2000 and has served as chairman and CEO since May 2003.

Obama said Sunday that GM and Chrysler and all those with a stake in their survival need to take more hard steps to help the struggling automakers restructure for the future. In an interview with CBS' "Face the Nation" broadcast Sunday, Obama said the companies must do more to receive additional financial aid from the government.

"They're not there yet," he said.

A person familiar with Obama's plans said last week they would go deeper than what the Bush administration demanded when it approved the initial loans last year.

Wagoner, in an interview with The Associated Press in December, had declined to speculate on suggestions from some members of Congress that GM's leadership team should step down as part of any rescue package.

"I'm doing what I do because it adds a lot of value to the company," Wagoner said in a Dec. 4 interview as GM sought federal aid from the Bush administration. "It's not clear to me that experience in this industry should be viewed as a negative but I'm going to do what's right for the company and I'll do it in consultation with the (GM) board (of directors)."

Wagoner has been credited by auto industry analysts with doing more to restructure the giant, bureaucratic automaker than any other executive. But given that he has been at GM's helm for so long, many of his critics say he moved far too slowly to take on the United Auto Workers and shrink the company as its market share tumbled.

While GM has improved its cars in the last two years, critics say the company relied for too long on sales of pickup trucks and sport utility vehicles for its profits and was unprepared for a drastic market shift when gasoline prices hit $4 per gallon last year.

During the Congressional debate over whether to give GM and Chrysler loans last year, many lawmakers criticized Wagoner, including Sen. Chris Dodd, D-Conn., chairman of the Banking Committee.

He accused automakers' top management of having a "head-in-the-sand" approach to problems and said Wagoner "has to move on" as part of a government-run restructuring that should be a condition of financial life support for the auto industry.


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