A gentlemen's agreement is said to ensure that Bernd Pischetsrieder will become chairman of Volkswagen when Ferdinand Piech retires in 2003. But things are never that simple where Piech is concerned.
The two men seemed to bond as they battled for Rolls-Royce in 1998. Now Pischetsrieder - fired by the Quandt family 10 months ago - is joining VW as chairman of Seat and group board member in charge of quality assurance.
As BMW chief, Pischetsrieder got the better of Piech by winning rights to the Rolls name without having to go through the trouble of buying the company. That impressed Pi'ch and may have given him an idea. He couldn't buy BMW, but he at least won the rights to its boss.
The VW chairman is probably just being sensible - hiring a talented ex-chief executive and putting him to work. There are few free agents around with Pischetsrieder's unique range of experience. He is too good and too young to spend his days wandering through the Bavarian Alps. He must have learned a lot while running BMW for six years - some of it the hard way.
But Piech hasn't made his mind up yet, I'll wager. He is setting up a sweepstakes - going through a very deliberate process of choosing a successor. He has assembled a shortlist of candidates and he'll let them compete for the most important job in the European auto industry.
There are four contenders: Pischetsrieder; Audi Chairman Franz-Josef Paefgen; former Audi boss Herbert Demel, now VW's South American chief; and Porsche Chairman Wendelin Wiedeking.
One or two other names have been mentioned, such as VW sales and marketing boss Robert Buchelhofer. Wolfgang Reitzle was once thought to have a chance and he may still.
But they don't make the shortlist.
Some say that Piech partly agreed to develop a luxury sport-utility with Porsche to give Wiedeking a chance to work with VW. The Porsche boss promptly quarreled with his counterparts. As a result the Porsche and VW versions of the new SUV will be built in separate plants.
Wiedeking's determination in the face of VW resistance probably won't hurt his chances with Piech. But his cult status might. A few years ago, Wiedeking was Europe's wunderkind. He later emerged as the auto industry's most fervent critic of German government policies. These days he has a much lower profile, realizing maybe that being a celebrity won't endear him to Piech.
He may have to go some to compete with Audi's Paefgen, who already has one of the lowest profiles of any auto boss in Europe. He is almost invisible compared to Demel, his predecessor.
Half the VW executives you talk to say Demel's move from Audi to South America a couple of years ago was a banishment - removing any chance he had to replace Piech. He was too young and too outspoken, they say. 'More famous than me,' Piech quipped.
But the other half say the South American assignment was strategic and good for Demel, giving him a wider, global experience.
Pischetsrieder's problem was Rover, of course. He did pretty well running the BMW business. But there are a couple of other scenarios to consider. Pischetsrieder may have been hired to lead Audi after Paefgen moves to Wolfsburg. That could happen very soon, with Paefgen taking a VW group level position in advance of getting the top job.
Or maybe Piech still wants to buy BMW - and put the bright young man who out-foxed him back in charge.