FRANKFURT -- Daimler named research chief Ola Kaellenius as its next CEO on Wednesday in a succession plan that promotes a raft of tech-savvy managers at its Mercedes-Benz brand and also seeks to install long-serving CEO Dieter Zetsche as chairman.
Zetsche, 65, will step down from his positions on the board of management of Daimler and as head of Mercedes-Benz Cars, at the end of the annual shareholders' meeting on May 22, 2019. Kaellenius, 49, would then be appointed as CEO, Daimler said in a statement on Wednesday. Zetsche has worked as Daimler CEO for 12 years. Prior, he had been CEO of the former Chrysler Group from 2000 to 2005.
Daimler's current chairman, Manfred Bischoff, will recommend Zetsche's election as his successor to take effect at the end of the annual meeting in 2021 following a two-year transition period.
The changes come at a critical time for the world’s biggest luxury automaker as well as commercial vehicle producer. Daimler in June was first among automakers to cut annual targets, faced with unpredictable fallout from trade tensions and pricing pressures on top of unprecedented spending on electric vehicles.
"In view of the challenges presented by the transformation of the automotive industry, the supervisory board intends to prepare a suitable succession at an early stage," Daimler said.
The appointment of Swedish national Kaellenius as CEO will be the first time that the Stuttgart-based inventor of the modern automobile will be headed by a non-German CEO.
With Kaellenius, Daimler is naming a long-serving employee who has risen through the ranks to the top job. He previously headed sales for the core Mercedes-Benz Cars division and led its AMG performance cars unit. His appointment as development chief at the end of 2016 put him ahead in the race to replace Zetsche, prompting then Daimler trucks head Wolfgang Bernhard to leave.
Markus Schaefer, currently head of production and supply chain management, will succeed Kaellenius as head of research and development.