Audi's technical boss, Wolfgang Dürheimer, was replaced at Audi because "he couldn't cope with the complexity of the brand" company boss Rupert Stadler is reported to have told journalists at the Le Mans 24 Hour race.
It was announced this week that Durheimer has been replaced in the role by the VW brand's head of development Ulrich Hackenberg. Stadler has confirmed that Hackenberg has a five-year deal with Audi, and that he will continue in his other VW Group roles as well.
Hackenberg has been a member of Volkswagen’s technical development board since February 2007. He joined Audi in 1985, and later became responsible for the technical project management of the entire product range.
In 1998 he moved to Volkswagen with responsibility for the areas of “Superstructure Development” and “Concept Development”. He also restructured technical development at Rolls-Royce Bentley Motor Cars and planned the new Bentley model range. In 2002 he rejoined Audi, heading up a number of developmental areas
Audi boss Rupert Stadler said: “We are delighted that Ulrich Hackenberg, an outstanding engineer and Audi expert, is returning to our brand, and he will also be responsible for the technical development of all the car brands within the Volkswagen Group. This strengthens the role of our brand within the overall Group.”
Dürheimer moved to Audi last September, having been CEO of Bentley and Bugatti since 2011. He was widely regarded as one of the emerging stars of the VW Group, and at one point had been tipped as a potential successor to VW Group boss Martin Winterkorn.
After completing his studies in engineering and applied sciences, Dürheimer joined BMW AG as a trainee, moving through the company to take up management positions in the road car and motorcycle divisions prior to taking up a board position as manager of research and development.
In 1999 he moved to Porsche, where he took charge of the 911 range of models and played a leading role in pushing the highly profitable Porsche Cayenne through to production. Two years later he joined Porsche's board, in charge of research and development. He remained at the firm until 2011, when he took control of Bentley and Bugatti, as well as steering the VW Group's motorsport involvement, including its highly successful Le Mans effort, which he was set to oversee again this weekend.
Audi has not commented on Dürheimer's reported departure, but well-placed sources are speculating that his reluctance to pursue a dedicated strategy for all-electric cars may have played a part in the decision. During his short time at Audi the Audi A2 Etron and Audi A8 Etron projects have been canned, and Dürheimer has frequently spoken of his belief that plug-in hybrid technology offers a better medium-term solution to low-emission motoring than all-electric vehicles. It has also been recently reported that the forthcoming launch of the next-generation Audi A4 has been delayed recently, although only by a matter of weeks.
Hackenberg will continue his role as the VW Group's head of development alongside his new role at Audi. It is not confirmed what role Durheimer will be given within the VW Group.