Gerald C. Meyers resigned as chairman and chief executive officer of the struggling American Motors Corp. yesterday in a shakeup of top management that appears to have been engineered by AMC's French partner, Re'gie Nationale des Usines Renault.
Meyers' departure after four years as chairman surprised auto industry analysts on Wall Street because as recently as mid-December he had been enthusiastically promoting the company's new line of cars and talking of his long-range plans for the company.
AMC announced after a meeting of its directors that Meyers, 53, will be succeeded as chairman and chief executive officer by W. Paul Tippett Jr., 49, who had been president for the past three years. The new president, viewed by industry analysts as the key figure, is Jose J. Dedeurwaerder, a former Renault executive who joined AMC in October.
"This looks like another step in the Renault takeover of AMC," said David Healy, auto industry analyst at Drexel Burnham Lambert. Renault, which is owned by the French government, has acquired nearly half of AMC's stock in exchange for infusions of capital. Analysts said Renault recently put up an additional $40 million, raising its total investment in AMC to about $300 million.
AMC said that Dedeurwaerder was the head of the Renault team that developed the highly successful Renault 9 last year. AMC is planning to produce its own version of that same car, a subcompact with front wheel drive, at its plant in Kenosha, Wis., later this year.
Meyers, who will remain on AMC's board, "said he wished to pursue other interests and felt the time had come to turn over leadership of the company to the new team which he had put in place," a company statement said.
AMC, the country's fourth-largest automaker, lost $89.4 million in the first three quarters of 1981 and is expected to report another loss in the last quarter. It has not reported a profit since the first quarter of 1980.
Roy D. Chapin, who preceded Meyers as chairman of the AMC board, was named yesterday to be chairman of a newly created executive committee within the board.
Speaking for the board after its meeting in New York, he said "all the board members value Gerry Meyers' great contributions during the 20 years he has been with the company and while chairman and president. We are confident that the strong management team which succeeds him will effectively carry out the company's new product programs which were begun under his far-sighted leadership."
The company also announced an agreement with Renault and with its banks to extend AMC's borrowing authority to finance the development of the new front-wheel-drive cars and more-fuel-efficient Jeeps. Details of the loan agreements were not reported.