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Tuesday, 4 December, 2001, 15:38 GMT
BMW chief to step down early
Joachim Milberg
Mr Milberg focused BMW on its core luxury brands
German carmaker BMW has surprised observers by announcing the early departure of its chief executive, Joachim Milberg.

Mr Milberg will step down at the firm's annual general meeting next May, the company said.

BMW was quick to portray the move as Mr Milberg's "personal decision".

But it nonetheless caused raised eyebrows, since he has been in the job only since 1999.

Mr Milberg will be replaced by Helmut Panke, the company's chief financial officer.

Strong legacy

Mr Milberg does not depart under a cloud.

While many car firms have suffered this year, BMW has returned strong performance.

Even in the weeks after the 11 September attacks, its sales continued growing strongly.

At least part of the reason for this is the reforms put in place by Mr Milberg, which focused the firm on its premium brands.

Other higher-end car makers have invested heavily in mass-market models in recent years, which has weighed on profit-margins.

Until Mr Milberg's arrival, BMW was seen as a prime takeover target, especially when the firm expensively pulled out of its UK Rover operation.

Now, however, its future independence is reckoned more secure than many of its rivals.

See also:

07 Nov 01 | Business
BMW sales accelerate
05 Sep 01 | Business
VW changes course
03 Sep 01 | Business
BMW recalls new Mini
07 Aug 01 | Business
BMW races ahead without Rover
18 Jul 01 | Business
BMW to build new German plant
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