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BMW chief set to join his Rolls-Royce rival Volkswagon

THE GERMAN car-maker Volkswagen announced yesterday that its adversary in last year's fight for Rolls-Royce, the former BMW chairman Bernd Pischetsrieder, will join its management board next year.

The 51-year-old Anglophile, who outmanoeuvred his VW counterpart Ferdinand Piech last September to win rights to the prestigious Rolls-Royce brand name, is tipped by some to take over at the helm at VW when Mr Piech's contract expires in 2002.

Mr Pischetsrieder, who has been at Munich-based BMW for more than 25 years, will take charge of VW's Seat brand and its newly created quality control division from the beginning of July next year, VW said.

The first BMW chairman not to see out his contract, Mr Pischetsrieder stepped down in February as disquiet about heavy losses at the company's UK Rover subsidiary mounted and support for his strategy appeared to dwindle among key shareholders. He is likely to feel at home vetting quality across VW's many brands, which include VW, Audi, Seat, Skoda, Bentley and Lamborghini - he spent two years at BMW in the Eighties doing the same job.

Like Mr Piech, he is both a traditionalist and an innovator. Promoted to chairman at BMW from a board position in charge of production in 1993, he wasted no time in taking BMW in a new direction and within a year had bought Rover.

The move was widely greeted in the industry as a bold step to broaden BMW's product range, adding a mass-market, front-wheel-drive model range and bringing technological benefits for the rear-wheel-drive BMW line.

Industry watchers now believe Mr Pischestrieder could succeed Mr Piech as chairman of VW. "This is not [Mr Pischetsrieder's] last stop." one Frankfurt-based analyst said.

The question on many analysts lips is whether Pischetsrieder will be at the helm at VW in 2003, when control of the Rolls-Royce marque will revert to VW? If he is, his victory for BMW could come back to haunt him.