General Motors Co said on Wednesday it has hired Hyundai Motor Co's highly regarded former marketing chief in the fourth shake-up of GM's sales organization since the automaker exited bankruptcy.
GM said Joel Ewanick would take over responsibility for marketing the Chevrolet, Buick, GMC and Cadillac brands later this month.
Ewanick, 49, was credited with helping to power sales and market share gains for Hyundai in 2009 during a crushing slump in industry-wide sales.
Ewanick pushed Hyundai into advertising in high-profile events like the Super Bowl and the Academy Awards just as other automakers, including GM, were pulling back.
He also launched the Hyundai Assurance Program, a sales offer that took aim at consumer concerns about job security by allowing Hyundai buyers who lost their jobs to return their new cars.
Hyundai U.S. sales were up more than 8 percent in 2009 while industry-wide sales dropped 21 percent. During Ewanick's two-year tenure at Hyundai, the percentage of American consumers who reported that they would consider buying a Hyundai doubled.
Ewanick had joined Nissan Motor Co in March with responsibility for marketing all Nissan-brand vehicles in the U.S. market.
Ewanick replaces Susan Docherty, 47, who will be given a new position at GM, the company said.
Neither could be immediately reached for a comment.
GM has changed the executives in charge of its sales and marketing efforts four times since emerging from bankruptcy in July under pressure to reverse years of declining market share.
In the latest revamp in early March, GM announced North America President Mark Reuss, 46, would take responsibility for sales, stripping that responsibility from Docherty.
GM Chairman and Chief Executive Ed Whitacre has been pushing the automaker to move faster to win back U.S. consumers after a decades-long slide in market share.
In late March, Whitacre had told GM employees that the executive team he had assembled would remain in place to carry out the turnaround strategy expected to culminate with a stock offering, possibly late this year.
I want to reassure you that the major leadership changes are behind us, Whitacre said. The team we have in place today is the team that will take us forward.
A person familiar with Ewanick's hiring at GM said Reuss had become aware in the past several weeks that the former Hyundai marketing chief might be available, just after Ewanick's hiring by Nissan was announced.
Reuss made the decision to pursue and hire Ewanick and then make room for him in the organization by shifting Docherty to a new role, said the person, who asked not to be quoted about aspects of the decision-making process that have not been made public.
One of GM's key challenges is to address what executives have described as a perception gap between recent improvements in quality in GM's product line-up and the still-lagging impression many American consumers have of its brands.
Ewanick's departure creates an opening at Nissan, just as the Japanese automaker is looking to build sales momentum for its existing line-up and the launch of its upcoming electric Leaf.
Nissan could not be immediately reached for a comment.
GM was restructured in bankruptcy under the guidance of the U.S. Treasury last year.
The automaker has repaid $7 billion in loans to the U.S. government. It is planning an initial public offering to begin to pay back taxpayers for an additional $43 billion the U.S. government extended in exchange for a 61.5 percent ownership stake in the automaker.
(Reporting by Kevin Krolicki and Soyoung Kim; Editing by Derek Caney and Matthew Lewis)