You could see this one coming for months, but today, General Motors made it official. Karl-Friedrich Stracke, who had the thankless job of trying to lead GM Europe and Opel/Vauxhall, is stepping aside to take on "special assignments" for GM CEO Dan Akerson.
Steve Girsky, the former Morgan Stanley auto analyst who is now GM's vice chairman, will take over the reins while the company looks for a replacement. Girsky is already the chairman of the Opel Supervisory Board, and he's been leading the turnaround effort at Opel, which has been moving at a glacial pace.
Now, an American will run an essentially German car company (GM uses the Vauxhall name in England, but that's kind of like being one of Prince Andrew's daughters: you know who's really going to sit on the throne). Girsky has been talked about as a possible successor to Akerson someday, but the rap has always been that he doesn't have actual operations experience.
This will be his chance to get that, and it will also be a chance for GM to prove why it hung onto Opel in the first place. It had a chance to unload it right around the time it filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in 2009, but decided not to do the deal because Europe was seen as too strategic to GM's future.
Well, Europe is falling apart, as we've been telling you, and it's going to get a lot worse before it gets better. At the very least, GM will get to see what's going to be involved in fixing Opel, which Bloomberg says has lost $16.4 billion since 1999. The crisis at Opel, plus the problems at Renault, Peugeot and in Ford's operations, might just prompt European governments to step up the way the Bush and Obama administrations did three years ago.
Regierung Motors, anyone?