German carmakers unveil surprise changes to top management

Tue Dec 9, 2014 10:15am EST
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By Edward Taylor and Andreas Cremer

BERLIN/FRANKFURT (Reuters) - German carmaker BMW and larger rival Volkswagen announced surprise changes to top management on Tuesday, with the veteran CEO of the Munich-based luxury group stepping down a year early and handing the reins to the firm's younger production chief.

BMW (BMWG.DE: Quote) said Chief Executive Norbert Reithofer, who has run the company since 2006, would step aside in May. Harald Krueger, a 49-year-old who has led BMW's push into emerging markets like China, will take his place, becoming one of the youngest executives ever to run a global carmaker.

In a related move, Volkswagen (VOWG_p.DE: Quote) announced that it had recruited BMW's research and development chief Herbert Diess to run its flagship VW passenger car brand.

One source told Reuters that Diess bolted to VW after failing to get assurances that he would succeed Reithofer, whose contract had been due to expire in 2016. When Diess left, BMW decided to accelerate its own succession plan.

Diess takes over responsibility for the VW brand from Chief Executive Martin Winterkorn, who has been doing that job in addition to running the broader VW group.

The move turns Diess, a 56-year-old engineer, into a strong candidate to replace Winterkorn as CEO of Europe's largest carmaker when his contract expires in late 2016.

Investors have been seeking clarity on the succession plans at both carmakers. Winterkorn, who has run VW since 2007, is 67 years old.

Reithofer is 58, close to the regular 60-year-old retirement age for top executives at BMW.   Continued...

Norbert Reithofer, Chairman of the Board of Management of BMW, speaks during an event to unveil the new X4 at the BMW manufacturing plant in Spartanburg, South Carolina March 28, 2014. REUTERS/Chris Keane