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Mercedes sales chief, Kaellenius, seen as possible Zetsche successor

Ola Källenius - Mercedes sales chief, Kaellenius, seen as possible Zetsche successor

Daimler promoted Ola Kaellenius (photo above), head of sales for its Mercedes-Benz Cars unit, to the group’s management board, making him a potential candidate to succeed Dieter Zetsche as CEO.

Kaellenius, 45, will become the eighth member of Daimler’s top executive body in January, the company said today in a statement.

The Swedish-born manager received a three-year contract and will continue to oversee sales and marketing for Daimler’s Mercedes and Smart brands.

“Ola Kaellenius will make our board of management younger and more international,” Chairman Manfred Bischoff said in the statement. “These are two characteristics that we increasingly see also amongst our customers.”

With his promotion, Kaellenius emerges as one of the top candidates to eventually replace Zetsche along with Chief Financial Officer Bodo Uebber, China Chief Hubertus Troska and Wolfgang Bernhard, Daimler’s trucks boss.

The 61-year-old CEO’s current contract expires at the end of 2016. Under Zetsche’s leadership, Daimler is pushing to regain the global lead in luxury-car sales that it lost to BMW in 2005. Mercedes then fell behind Audi in 2011, and currently ranks third in the segment worldwide.

Kaellenius will “definitely join the group of possible successors for Zetsche,” said Daniel Schwarz, an analyst at Commerzbank.

One of his top tasks will be to safeguard profitability of the E class as the current model heads toward the end of its life cycle. “It’s an important model for Mercedes,” Schwarz said.

Before taking charge of Mercedes sales in October 2013, Kaellenius had a background in sports cars. He headed Mercedes’s AMG performance unit from 2010 to 2013 and before that was involved in developing Formula One engines for Mercedes and also worked for McLaren Automotive.

Mercedes is the biggest profit contributor for Daimler, which is also the world’s biggest truck maker.

Kaellenius’s appointment is part of a generational shift at German carmakers. Earlier this week, BMW appointed Harald Krueger, 49, to succeed Norbert Reithofer as CEO next year. Meanwhile, Volkswagen hired BMW’s development chief Herbert Diess, 56, to head the VW brand, making him a candidate to succeed CEO Martin Winterkorn, 67.

Other potential future successors to Zetsche include Markus Schaefer, head of manufacturing at Mercedes, and Klaus Zehender head of procurement at Mercedes.

Zetsche may have his contract extended beyond 2016, senior executive sources have said.