The news that Wolfgang Bernhard is going to head up Merc’s van division and production caught my eye. Bernhard, you see, is a disciple of Daimler boss Dieter Zetsche. The old man took him to Detroit to help run Chrysler after the Daimler Chrysler merger, and Bernhard also has run the VW brand and, ironically, been integral in Cerberus’s takeover of Chrysler when Daimler abandoned ship.
The reason his appointment caught my eye is that there have been a lot of rumours that Zetsche won’t be running Merc for too much longer. It's nothing to do with his effectiveness as the boss, mind you, but tragically his wife has recently lost a battle with cancer. And who could blame him for feeling differently about work after such a loss?
So perhaps Bernhard is being groomed to be his replacement. One thing’s for sure, Wolfgang has a reputation for being fiery and uncompromising. He was, after all, being lined up to run Merc’s car division in 2004 but a row with then-boss Juergen Schrempp ruled him out. His undoing at VW was the result of a big falling-out with Bernd Pichetsrieder because Bernhard wanted more radical restructuring plans that the board or unions would swallow.
I’ve also got some personal experience of his personality. He once told me that he didn’t think any cars would be made in Western Europe within 20 years (maybe best keep that quiet in Stuttgart for a while) and while at VW, he pretty much walked out of an interview with me and European editor Greg Kable because we were asking him about the company’s sports car plans.