DETROIT (AP) _ General Motors Corp. Chairman John G. Smale, the outside director who led a boardroom coup three years ago at the world's largest automaker, will leave that post Jan. 1, the company announced today.

He will be replaced by Jack Smith, who also will continue as president and chief executive of GM. Smale will remain on the board of directors and chair a newly established executive committee of the board.

In a statement, Smale said that in 1992, GM's board though it would be good to have a chairman who was not a GM executive, given that the company faced ``substantial business challenges.''

``Now, some three years later, it's clear that GM's management team under Jack Smith's leadership has turned GM around,'' Smale said. GM earned record profits of $4.9 billion in 1994.

The company also said Harry J. Pearce, a GM executive vice president, will become vice chairman.

Smale, the former chairman of consumer products giant Procter & Gamble Co., became GM's chairman in November 1992 after leading a boardroom revolt that forced the resignation of Robert Stempel as chairman and chief executive. The shakeup split the chairman and CEO jobs at the automaker for the first time since the 1950s.

``The changes announced today will permit (Smale) to continue the leadership role he has played on the GM board, while permitting him to reduce his day-to-day involvement in GM's governance,'' Smith said in a statement.

The new executive committee headed by Smale will consist of the chairs on the board's other standing committees and ``will coordinate the oversight activities of the GM board,'' today's announcement said. Still a director at Cincinnati-based P&G, Smale heads a similar committee for that company.

Pearce, who previously served as the company's general counsel, will become the second GM executive on the 13-member board after Smith.

As general counsel, he became one of the nation's most recognized corporate lawyers in 1993 when he led a successful public attack on a ``Dateline NBC'' program that used rigged explosions in a purported demonstration of fuel system flaws in GM pickup trucks.

The television network apologized for the story, prompting the resignation of NBC News chief Michael Gartner.