John Larson, described as a "straight shooter and very well liked" by an executive close to the matter, is leaving not just GM but the auto business, an insider confirmed. A successor has not yet been named.
The brand trio Mr. Larson led faces headwinds. GM is trying to boost the brand images of Buick and Pontiac with cooler models while also trimming lineups. Buick will eventually have just three models. GMC sells only pickups and SUVs.
Chicago Auto Show
Mr. Larson, who did not return a call for comment or e-mail by press time, told Advertising Age at the Chicago Auto Show earlier this year that Buick's advertising is evolving, and upcoming work from McCann Erickson, Birmingham, Mich., would focus on "quality and performance second to none."
He said GM has worked hard to differentiate the GMC Arcadia crossover from its upcoming Buick sibling, the Enclave, and would use different mediums to reach each model's target consumer.
GM's Mike Jackson, VP-marketing and advertising in North America, told Advertising Age earlier this year Buick is a "work in progress" and a positioning of "wise with wealth." He called Buick's Enclave, arriving in late spring, a "very important launch."
Mr. Larson was named to his current post in December 2004, but has held a variety of marketing and finance positions, including at Cadillac and GMAC.
Just a few weeks ago, GM named Katherine Benoit executive director of Buick-Pontiac-GMC to leverage cross-brand opportunities. Mr. Larson was her boss. Her experience includes brand manager for Buick's Park Avenue and Riviera, director of e-sales at GM's defunct digital e-GM unit and executive director of GM's Customer Care Network.
GM first bundled Pontiac and GMC 11 years ago, later adding Buick. GM's so-called retail channel strategy aims to encourage dealers to consolidate the three brands.
In 2006, roughly 70% of Buick-Pontiac-GMC's sales volume came through the channel, but the automaker is shooting for 80%, according to Ad Age sibling Automotive News.
In the first quarter this year, Buick and Pontiac vehicle sales in the U.S. were down, due in part to lineup cuts; Buick by nearly 30% to 43,343 units and Pontiac by 20% to 79,071 vehicles, according to Automotive News. GMC said it sold 106,687 trucks in the first quarter, or nearly 7% more than the year-ago period.