WOLFSBURG, Germany - The race is on to replace Ferdinand Piech as head of Volkswagen Group, now that Bernd Pischetsrieder has arrived.
Pischetsrieder will join the Volkswagen AG management board July 1, 2000. He immediately becomes the lead candidate to succeed Piech, 62, whose contract expires at the end of 2002. Pischetsrieder was ousted as BMW's chief executive last February for failing to fix Rover.
Pischetsrieder, who turns 52 in February, gets groupwide responsibility for quality control, a newly created job. He also will become chairman of Seat, VW's subsidiary in Spain.
Pischetsrieder has been given a five-year contract. He will be based in Wolfsburg and Barcelona. He spent 26 years at BMW, becoming chairman in May 1993.
The VW management board will expand to six members. Pischetsrieder will join Piech, chairman; Peter Hartz, 58, personnel; Jens Neumann, 54, strategy; Robert Buchelhofer, 57, sales and marketing; and Bruno Adelt, 60, finance.
Piech hired the man who defeated him in the battle over Rolls-Royce and Bentley in 1998. Pischetsrieder secured Rolls-Royce brand rights for BMW, starting in January 2003, even though VW bought the company. It was hailed as a brilliant piece of one-upmanship.
Auto company and supplier executives in Germany say Pischetsrieder's arrival at VW throws open the competition to succeed Piech, VW's chairman since 1991.
'The race has definitely become more thrilling,' one German auto executive said. 'If Pischetsrieder isn't going to succeed Piech, I'm sure that VW will establish a luxury brands division. Pischetsrieder will at least become the leader of that.'
Until now, industry insiders have speculated that Porsche Chief Executive Wendelin Wiedeking, 47, had the best chance of succeeding Piech. Other candidates are Buchelhofer, Audi Chairman Franz-Josef Paefgen, 53, and former Audi boss Herbert Demel, 46, currently in charge of Volkswagen's operations in Brazil.
A VW spokesman refused to comment on Piech's replacement.