Harold K. Sperlich, widely regarded as the chief designer of product programs that helped save Chrysler Corp. from bankruptcy, yesterday announced plans to resign as president of Chrysler Motors, the company's automotive division.

Sperlich, a 30-year veteran of the domestic auto industry, said he will remain a member of Chrysler's board of directors.

Sperlich was one of a group of Ford Motor Co. executives who scrapped successful careers at that company in the late 1970s to follow fired Ford President Lee A. Iacocca to Chrysler. Helped by federally backed loans and by Sperlich's K cars, the Reliant and Aries, Iacocca saved the company from ruin and gained fame as Chrysler chairman in the process.

Iacocca yesterday praised Sperlich's "enormous contributions" to the auto industry in general and to Chrysler in particular. Sperlich, 59, expressed gratitude for having been a part of "bringing a great company back to life."

Sperlich said he looks forward to his continued association with Chrysler as a member of the board. "But I am also looking forward to new challenges," he said.

There was some speculation yesterday that Sperlich's departure is meant to clear the way for new leadership to come up with fresh auto designs to replace what many critics now regard as an over-used, aging K-car platform. However, other sources said the parting is as amicable as it appears to be.

"I'm personally sorry to see him leave. But there are no negatives there that I can think of. I guess he feels that its just time for him to do something else," said a Sperlich associate, who asked not to be identified.