Volkswagen AG is set to name the head of its namesake brand, Herbert Diess, as its next chief executive to succeed Matthias Mueller, in a surprise shake-up of top management after emerging from the years-long diesel crisis.
The supervisory board will vote on the change in top leadership at a meeting on Friday, according to people familiar with the matter, who asked not to be identified speaking ahead of an official announcement. The 64-year-old Mueller has two years left on his current contract. A VW spokesman could not immediately be reached for comment. The shares jumped as much as 5%.
In tapping the 59-year-old Diess for the top job, Volkswagen would elevate a senior executive from its own ranks, while at the same time handing the reins to someone who was not at the automaker when the diesel cheating took place. Diess joined VW from southern-German rival BMW AG in mid 2015 just before the scandal erupted publicly. As the executive overseeing VW’s biggest unit, he routinely butted heads with the powerful labor union as he sought to cut costs and simplify the byzantine structure of the carmaker.
“The potential change in CEO comes as a surprise,” Christian Ludwig, a Bankhaus Lampe analyst, said by phone. “I don’t see an obvious trigger that would have prompted this.”
Under Mueller -- who was promoted to the top job in the chaotic days following the public disclosure of the diesel cheating -- VW has weathered the blows from the scandal while at the same time embarking on an aggressive expansion into electric cars. Its profit margin climbed to 7.4% of sales last year from 6% in 2015, when the crisis hit. The carmaker also managed to fend off Toyota Motor Corp. to retain its status as the world’s largest automaker.
VW said earlier Tuesday that it was considering a change in the CEO job. Chairman Hans Dieter Poetsch is leading the process and Mueller has “showed his general willingness to contribute to the changes,” the company said in a statement.
In the aftermath of the diesel-cheating scandal, Volkswagen has been pushing to overhaul its rigid top-down management structure, delegating more responsibility to its brand and regional chiefs. Its complex structure has extended to its main shareholder, Porsche Automobil Holding SE, where Volkswagen’s chairman serves as the CEO and Mueller also serves as a top executive. Porsche said separately any changes at VW would have a knock-on effect for it.
Including Mueller, VW’s management board totals nine people, with responsibilities ranging from purchasing to legal affairs to financing and human resources. Meanwhile, Audi, the namesake VW brand, the trucks division and the group’s Chinese operations also have representatives on Volkswagen’s top executive body.
Representatives of Porsche and the German state of Lower Saxony, VW’s two largest shareholders, weren’t immediately available for comment.
by Elisabeth Behrmann and Christoph Rauwald