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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Top Designer Joins GM

DETROIT -- General Motors Corp., seeking to energize its product line, announced this week it hired a top-ranking designer at French automaker Renault who created the concept that inspired Europe's hot-selling Megane Scenic small minivan.

Anne Asensio, 37, who was Renault's third-ranking designer, was named a director at GM, reporting to design vice president Wayne Cherry, the world's largest automaker said. She will be responsible for the future direction of GM's U.S.-based brand designs.

Asensio was director of medium-size car design at Renault, where she was believed to be in line to succeed Renault's design leader, Patrick Le Quement. It was Asensio's 1991 Scenic concept car, unveiled at the Frankfurt Motor Show, that became the basis for the Megane Scenic.

She was also responsible for Renault's redesigned Clio and Twingo, a wildly popular French minicar, GM said. Those vehicles helped define the French automaker's style and boost sales and earnings. In 1997 they helped Asensio win recognition from industry trade publication Automotive News as "The Automotive Woman of the Year."

"Renault is in a great position, and it has taken us 10 years to get to this point," Asensio said. "But I'm ready for a change, for the adventure of it."

New concept vehicles such as the Buick LaCrosse luxury sedan and Chevrolet SSR roadster with a pickup truck bed - made to gauge public interest and flash a peek at the automaker's future designs - are meant to reverse GM's U.S. market share decline, which was partly precipitated by its bland designs.

GM stirred interest at this year's major international auto shows with 10 concept vehicles, six of which it said it may make.

AutoPacific analyst James Hall said several people recently have declined offers for top design positions with GM because the automaker would not guarantee they would inherit the top spot when Cherry, 62, retires. Hall said he did not believe GM would promote Asensio or another young outsider into its top design position.

"The last thing they're going to do is put someone young in the position," Hall said. "They didn't do that last time, when they should have, and they didn't do it the time before that. Ironically, that's what helped make Chrysler strong, and that's what Ford did."

The required retirement age for GM executives is 65, unless that is waived by the board. Cherry has no plans to retire any time soon, a company spokesman said.

In 1997, Ford Motor Co. hired J Mays, then 42 and leader of Volkswagen AG's U.S. design center, to head its worldwide design team. In 1995, Chrysler, which merged with Germany's Daimler-Benz in 1998 to form DaimlerChrysler AG, named Tom Gale, then 41, head of design.

Asensio's hiring is not GM's first from a European competitor. In January, the automaker rehired Frank Saucedo, then head of VW's California design studio, to head GM's new California design studio, and last July GM hired a former Fiat designer. Saucedo, 38, had left GM in 1996 after the company closed its California design studio.

In the past year, Ford and DaimlerChrysler also have hired top designers from European automakers, who are recognized in the industry for their cutting-edge designs. Last August, Ford hired Land Rover's head of design, Gerry McGovern, to lead Lincoln's design team. Last June, DaimlerChrysler's North American division added Freeman Thomas, VW's 41-year-old U.S. design chief, to its U.S. design staff, a move analysts said marked him as Gale's potential successor.

Asensio is no stranger to Detroit, having spent a year at American Motors Corp. within its Jeep studios as one of Renault's designers working jointly with AMC to revamp the Wrangler. Asensio also worked on the ill-fated JJ project, a joint effort between Renault and Chrysler to create an entry-level Jeep product.