Mr. Roberts, 59, last week was named VP-group executive in charge of sales, service and marketing in North America as GM announced its global reorganization. Mr. Roberts, the former VP-general manager of Pontiac-GMC Division, was named to the newly created position of general manager-field sales, service and parts just two months ago, with the company's North American reorganization.
He succeeds brand czar Ronald Zarrella, elevated to the top executive post in North America as exec VP-president of the region.
Philip Guarascio, VP-general manager of marketing and advertising for North America, will now report to Mr. Roberts.
"Roy is smart and quick and can juggle 10 to 12 issues in his brain at once and make quick, good decisions," said Gunnar Wilmot, exec VP of Buick agency McCann-Erickson Worldwide, Troy, Mich.
McCann had Mr. Roberts as a client when it handled the GMC account.
"I will say this for Roy -- he does fight for his people and for what he believes in," said an auto industry analyst who asked not to be named. "He's a very, very smart guy."
Mr. Roberts was unavailable for comment. A spokeswoman said he was tied up all week in meetings about the restructuring.
Mr. Zarrella was in the midst of restructuring his sales, service and marketing organization to centralize the three functions, moving them away from GM's vehicle marketing and sales divisions.
A GM dealer, who asked not to be named, said the previous, ongoing reorganization has been "very disruptive" to the dealer body, because the company's entire field staff -- which calls on dealers -- has had to apply for new, unknown jobs.
"They're all in limbo and wondering what their new job will be," he said.
Steve Snyder, a Chevrolet dealer in Auburn, Calif., said Mr. Zarrella had figured GM could find better ways of doing business. He was unsure how the elevation of Mr. Roberts to that post would affect the changes already under way.
"The one thing Ron didn't want to hear is `that's the way we've always done it before' at GM,' " said Mr. Snyder.
Mr. Roberts' background at GM is primarily in manufacturing. He left GM in the late '80s to join Navistar International Corp. as VP-truck operations. After returning as manufacturing manager for Cadillac, he became general manager of the GMC Division, later combined with Pontiac.
"More than anything, GM needs someone to question why they do stuff and [Mr. Zarrella has] done that," said James Hall, VP-industry analyst at consultancy AutoPacific. But as with any restructuring, GM may be losing precious time in a competitive marketplace as new staff figures out new jobs and processes, he added.
WAGONER GOES GLOBAL
Mr. Zarrella succeeds Rick Wagoner, promoted to corporate president-chief operating officer. He will head the newly combined global operations, called GM Automotive Operations.
Mr. Wagoner had been president of North American Operations since 1994. Despite healthy profits of $2.3 billion last year, North America didn't reach GM's own profit margin of 5% of sales. Market share also slipped under Mr. Wagoner's watch, hovering around 30%.
Mr. Wagoner's biggest challenge, said Mr. Hall, will be "keeping GM from another reorganization."
WALL STREET UNIMPRESSED
Wall Street also didn't think much of GM's latest changes, pushing GM's stock down the day of the Oct. 6 announcement by $2.50 per share, to $51.25.
"What Wall Street basically said was, `There's absolutely no proof these people can or have delivered on GM's goals," said the auto analyst who asked not to be named.
"If GM is serious about brand management, they cannot do it after the product comes out of the factory," he said. "It has to start with product development. They're not going to do it by giving soccer balls away with minivans."