BERLIN (Reuters) -- Audi will replace Wolfgang Duerheimer, the company's r&d head, with Volkswagen brand research chief Ulrich Hackenberg, reports said.
Duerheimer will be fired 10 months after becoming Audi development chief, a person familiar with the matter told Reuters on Thursday, confirming an earlier report in the German magazine Spiegel.
VW's head of engine development, Hans-Jakob Neusser, will take Hackenburg's role as VW brand development chief, Germany's manager magazin reported.
At Audi, Duerheimer, a former Bentley CEO and r&d chief at Porsche, has come under growing criticism from top Volkswagen Group managers who think the brand's surge is losing momentum.
Audi touts "advancement through technology" as its marketing slogan but has become a follower of technology trends too often set by luxury-market leader BMW. It is also too dependent on China, a senior VW group executive said in a recent interview.
Ferdinand Dudenhoefer, head of the CAR think tank at the University of Duisburg-Essen, Germany, said: "Audi doesn't uncover new market segments and too often borrows VW group technology. Their sales slogan doesn't meet the requirements."
A VW spokesman declined to comment. Audi did not return calls seeking comment.
Hackenberg, Duerheimer's reported successor, is a close confidante of VW Group CEO Martin Winterkorn. He served at Audi before in various development-related positions between 2002 and 2007, assisting Winterkorn, who was then still head of the brand.
Duerheimer took over as Audi development chief last September after his predecessor, Michael Dick, was replaced in a group-wide management reshuffle following criticism that Audi was losing its technology edge.
Duerheimer has stopped planned electric versions of the R8 sports car and the A1 hatchback while BMW is preparing to launch its i3 megacity electric car that has a lightweight carbon-fiber skeleton later this year.
The i3's arrival throws Audi further behind its main rival on an alternative powertrain technology that may drive future growth and ends the brand's pioneering role in lightweight construction, said Dudenhoefer, noting Audi in 1994 launched the first premium car worldwide with a body fully made of aluminum.
Still, Audi is making good progress in sales after eclipsing Daimler's Mercedes as the world's second-biggest luxury carmaker two years ago, shrinking the gap with BMW to no more than 11,000 cars after five months this year.
Hackenberg pioneered VW's modular platform strategy that may help the German multi-brand group to hit the top of the global sales chart several years ahead of its 2018 target.
The modularity enables VW to design, engineer and build a variety of vehicle size and shapes - from a subcompact Polo hatchback to a full-size, seven-passenger crossover - at lower cost and in shorter time.