Daimler names new CEO to lead push into electric, autonomous vehicles

Daimler said Wednesday that Dieter Zetsche is stepping down as CEO and will be replaced by a long-serving executive who has most recently been leading the automaker’s research and development efforts, including its push into electric vehicles.

The company has proposed that Zetsche, who was CEO of Daimler for 12 years, become chairman of the supervisory board in 2021 when Manfred Bischoff leaves. The move must be approved by shareholders at the company’s next meeting. The company’s structure requires a two-year “cooling off” period before Zetsche can be elected as the board’s chairman.

Daimler has picked Ola Källenius to head up Mercedes-Benz vehicles and Daimler. Källenius is the first non-German to hold the top spot. Källenius most recently headed up research at Daimler and development at Mercedes-Benz Cars. He joined the company in 1993, then called Daimler-Benz AG, as a trainee within its International Management Associate Program.

In recent years, it appeared he was being groomed for Zetsche’s spot. In 2015, Källenius was appointed to the Daimler AG’s board of management.

Källenius’ appointment comes at an interesting and potentially transformative time for the maker of Mercedes-Benz vehicles and Daimler trucks. The old business of building, financing and selling cars, trucks and SUVs has changed as automakers seek new ways to make profits.

Daimler is among those with plans to launch a series of new electric vehicles, develop autonomous vehicles and ramp up its “mobility” business, a unit that includes car sharing and ride hailing.

Earlier this month, Mercedes-Benz unveiled the EQC, an all-electric crossover that kicks off the German automaker’s plans to invest more than $12 billion to produce a line of battery-powered models under its new EQ brand. Daimler plans to invest another $1.2 billion in global battery production.

Daimler and BMW took the unusual step in March 2018 to merge their untraditional operations such as car sharing and ride hailing, parking locator services and electric vehicle charging into a single joint business in an effort to better compete with Uber, Lyft and other mobility companies.

The move would tie up their on-demand mobility offerings, including car-sharing services Car2Go and DriveNow, ride-hailing services such as myTaxi, Chauffeur Privé, Clever Taxi and Beat, as well as parking businesses ParkNow and ParkMobile.

BMW and Daimler said they will continue to compete in their core business of building and selling vehicles.