Volkswagen's decision to poach BMW product development chief Herbert Diess to run its flagship VW brand puts the 56-year-old manager in the pole position to succeed Martin Winterkorn as head of what could soon be the world's largest automaker.
Winterkorn, 67, has a contract that runs until 2016, but VW unions want him to stay another two years. That's not quite the kind of generational change trumpeted at BMW.
Diess will be tasked with putting the VW brand on track to achieve a 6 percent operating margin from a current 2.3 percent, while at the same time maximizing employment in Germany, where over 100,000 of the group's half-million staff work.
The VW brand accounts for about 60 percent of volume but only 18 percent of operating profit (excluding its admittedly huge China business).
Other crown princes, including Audi CEO Rupert Stadler, Volkswagen sales chief Christian Klingler and Skoda head Winfried Vahland, will see Diess' hiring as a sign that none of them has proved himself to be a lock for Winterkorn's job.
Yet VW has had limited success when hiring executives from competitors. The last time it went looking outside Wolfsburg for a new VW brand chief, it found Wolfgang Bernhard, whose reputation for cutting jobs without consulting first with German unions doomed him at labor-friendly VW.
Of course, VW's most famous BMW hire is Bernd Pischetsrieder. Outgoing CEO Ferdinand Piech personally anointed him as his successor in 2002, but the VW patriarch later judged it a "mistake that required effort to correct" following a spectacular sacking in 2006.
Being an outsider handpicked to run the historic heart of the group will engender envy in the labyrinthine halls of Wolfsburg. But Diess can take comfort in knowing he has nothing to lose. The CEO job at BMW wasn't his for the taking, and he could look forward to forced retirement in four years anyway, as BMW typically requires senior executives to retire at age 60.