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Daimler Names First Non-German CEO at End of Zetsche Era

Sept. 26, 2018
Heir apparent Ola Kallenius to take up role next year.

Daimler AG accelerated a management transition, naming development head Ola Kallenius to replace Chief Executive Officer Dieter Zetsche two years ahead of schedule as the German carmaker confronts jarring changes in the automotive industry.

Kallenius, the first non-German to take the helm of Daimler, will become CEO in 2019, Daimler said Wednesday in a statement. The 49-year-old Swede had been the heir apparent to long-serving Zetsche, 65, who has come under pressure from regulators over diesel emissions.

“In Ola Kallenius, we are appointing a recognized, internationally experienced and successful Daimler executive,” said Chairman Manfred Bischoff, who’ll be replaced by Zetsche in 2021 following a two-year cooling-off period. “Dieter Zetsche has played a key role in shaping Daimler and has ensured its strategically outstanding positioning for the mobility of the future.”

Daimler shares fell as much as 2.4% in Frankfurt.

The transition at the top comes at a critical time for the world’s biggest luxury carmaker as well as commercial vehicle producer. Daimler in June was first among auto producers to cut annual targets, faced with unpredictable fallout from trade tensions and pricing pressures on top of unprecedented spending on electric vehicles.

The maker of Mercedes-Benz cars, after taking the luxury sales lead from BMW in 2016, has also come under scrutiny over its diesel-engine setups to meet emissions regulations, sparking investigations in the U.S. and Germany.

Kallenius “seems like a logical solution” after successfully holding key management positions, said Sven Diermeier, a Frankfurt analyst at Independent Research GmbH.

With Kallenius, Daimler is naming a long-serving employee who has risen through the ranks to the top job. He previously headed sales for the core Mercedes-Benz cars division and led its AMG performance cars unit. His appointment as development chief at the end of 2016 put him ahead in the race to replace Zetsche, prompting then Daimler trucks head Wolfgang Bernhard to leave.

“In view of the challenges presented by the transformation of the automotive industry, the supervisory board intends to prepare a suitable succession at an early stage,” the company said.

By Elisabeth Behrmann and Oliver Sachgau

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