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GM splits China from international unit, hires former Volvo CEO

The General Motors logo is seen outside its headquarters at the Renaissance Center in Detroit, Michigan in this file photograph taken August
The General Motors logo is seen outside its headquarters at the Renaissance Center in Detroit, Michigan in this file photograph taken August

By Ben Klayman

DETROIT (Reuters) - General Motors Co said on Friday it has split the critical China operations from its international unit, which will now be run by the former chief executive of Swedish automaker Volvo.

Tim Lee, who has led the international operations unit for almost four years, was named chairman of GM China and retains his position as global chief of manufacturing.

The moves will allow the company to focus more on China, the world's largest automotive market, as well as other fast-growing, emerging markets, GM said.

"It will put us in a better position to take on the competition and take even greater advantage of all the opportunities that exist in the international market," GM spokeswoman Katie McBride said.

GM said Stefan Jacoby, a former head of Volvo who also worked as an executive at Volkswagen AG , will take over as head of the remaining international operations. That region includes 100 countries and territories in Africa, Asia, Europe and the Middle East.

Jacoby, 55, starts his job Monday and will report to GM Chief Executive Dan Akerson.

Jacoby left Volvo in October 2012 after the company fell short of its sales targets, including aggressive growth plans in China. Sources said at the time that Jacoby had clashed with the deputy chairman on Volvo's board over a key appointment and strategy.

Jacoby suffered a mild stroke in September 2012, but GM officials said he is fit to run the company's international operations and declined to discuss his health further. Volvo said when Jacoby left, his illness had nothing to do with the decision to remove him.

Jacoby is the latest former VW executive to join GM.

In January, GM named VW's Karl-Thomas Neumann to head its money-losing Opel unit in Europe. Five months later, GM tapped Tim Mahoney, a former VW executive, as head of global marketing. Last summer, the U.S. automaker hired Michael Lohscheller from VW to be Opel's chief financial officer.

Akerson wants Lee to focus on China, where GM is the market leader, and on the company's aggressive product launch plans.

GM has more than 60 vehicle launches globally this year and in 2014, including the recently introduced Chevrolet Silverado and GMC Sierra full-size pickup trucks, which are key profit generators.

Bob Socia, president of GM China, will continue to report to Lee, who will have responsibility for 12 joint ventures, two wholly owned foreign enterprises and more than 55,000 employees in China.

"Tim is critical to building on our success in China and to ensuring flawless vehicle launches around the globe," Akerson said.

China will still be included in GM's international operations when it comes to financial reporting, however, McBride said.

(Additional reporting by Norihiko Shirouzu in Beijing; Editing by Jeffrey Benkoe)

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