GM made the announcement at a hastily called press conference at its Detroit headquarters "to announce significant decisions reached today by the GM Board of Directors," the website of the Detroit Free Press newspaper reported. Freep.com also reported that Whitacre has been named chairman of GM.
Speaking at the conference, Whitacre praised Henderson and said the search for a new CEO would begin immediately. "I remain more convinced than ever that our company is on the right path," The New York Times reported Whitacre as saying. "We now need to accelerate our progress toward that goal."
The two men reportedly clashed over the future of the company. Whitacre led a board revolt over a plan to sell GM's German subsidiary, Opel, to a Canadian parts company, a deal that Henderson helped to shepherd through.
The deal fell apart last month after GM pulled the plug on the plan, which had the blessing of German Chancellor Angela Merkel. It was the third such pact to unwind this fall. Most recently a Swedish concern abandoned its plan to takeover Saab, and in September, Penske Automotive Group (PAG) pulled the plug on a deal to buy Saturn after CEO Roger Penske was unable to find a manufacturer to supply new vehicles.
Only One Up Month Since Bankruptcy
News of Henderson's resignation came amid two days of meetings by the board and on the day GM released sales figures for November showing sales slipped for a fourth month following its emergence from bankruptcy. October was the only month to show a rise when compared to sales figures from the comparable period a year ago.
Henderson became CEO of the world's largest automaker in March after the Obama administration asked then-Chairman and CEO Rick Wagoner to step down. Henderson led GM through a brief bankruptcy from which the company emerged in July.
Obama's auto task force, put together to help revive GM as well as Chrysler, had sought to oust Henderson in March along with Wagoner, Freep.com reported. But the group declined to do so, after it determined that finding a suitable replacement to lead the company would require about six months.
The administration wasn't involved in Henderson's decision, the New York Times reported on its website, citing a Treasury official.
GM has received $50 billion in government loans this year, and U.S. taxpayers hold a 60% stake in the company.