Volkswagen AG (VOW) appointed Ulrich Hackenberg to oversee development at the Audi brand, the group’s biggest profit maker, taking over for Wolfgang Duerheimer, who was in the job less than a year.
Hackenberg, who worked alongside Chief Executive Officer Martin Winterkorn during his tenure as head of Audi and became one of his closest confidants, will return to the luxury-auto maker as of July 1, the Wolfsburg, Germany-based company said today in a statement.
Duerheimer, a former developer at Porsche, will leave to take another position within the group, VW said, without specifying what the new role will be. The 55-year-old engineer took charge of creating new Audi models on Sept. 1 after previously heading the Bugatti and Bentley brands.
Audi is critical to Volkswagen’s goal of becoming the world’s largest carmaker by 2018. The Ingolstadt, Germany-based brand accounted for 56 percent of VW’s first-quarter operating profit. The division plans to spend 13 billion euros ($17.2 billion) through 2016 on new models and expanding its production network as it seeks to dethrone Bayerische Motoren Werke AG as the world’s best-selling luxury brand.
Hackenberg, 63, will also take charge of development coordination for the entire group, VW said. He will be replaced as head of development at the VW brand by Heinz-Jakob Neusser, 53, who currently heads VW’s motor development.
“We are delighted that Ulrich Hackenberg, an outstanding engineer and Audi expert is returning,” brand chief Rupert Stadler said in a statement. “This strengthens the role of our brand within the overall group.”
Der Spiegel yesterday reported that Duerheimer was forced to leave after pushing for cost savings and causing friction among Audi’s development team.
Duerheimer created internal tensions by threatening to withdraw key projects such as work on sports-car engines from Audi’s Neckarsulm plant, a person familiar with the matter said today. He also involved himself in smaller design and technology projects rather than fighting for the brand projects at the group level, said the person who asked not to be identified discussing internal decisions.
Stadler thanked Duerheimer for his “dedicated performance.” Audi officials declined to make the executive available for an interview.
VW shook up management at Audi last year. In addition to Duerheimer’s appointment, Bernd Martens and Luca De Meo moved from the VW brand to head purchasing and sales, respectively. The management reorganization led to the departure of Peter Schwarzenbauer, De Meo’s predecessor as Audi’s sales chief. Schwarzenbauer is now a board member at BMW overseeing Mini and Rolls-Royce cars and BMW motorcycles.
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