BMW's chief executive to step down after 23 years: German motor industry's best performer reveals damage from collapsed domestic market and strong currency

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EBERHARD VON KUENHEIM is to step down as chief executive of BMW after 23 years. Aged 64 and the longest-serving head in the world car industry, he is to make way on 13 May for another board member, 45-year-old Bernd Pischetsrieder, at present in charge of production.

BMW's profits dropped last year to DM726m (pounds 305m) from DM783m, disappointing expectations for little change, although it maintained the dividend at DM12.5.

The company remains by far the best performer in an industry battered by recession - VW and Mercedes-Benz are expected to report much sharper falls in 1992 profits. But the figures underlined that no German car maker has managed to escape the ravages of the collapsed domestic market and a high Deutschmark.

In another key industrial sector, the chemicals group BASF expressed severe doubts about its chances of matching 1992's profit this year. Jurgen Strube, managing board chairman, said group sales had fallen 10 per cent in the first two months and described the outlook as not bright. 'The pattern of business in the German chemical industry has so far continued on the unsatisfactory course it followed in December,' he said. Pre-tax profits in 1992 were 41 per cent down at DM1.24bn. BASF will cut 4,000 jobs in 1993 and introduce short-time shifts in some areas.

Dr Strube said he was not banking on the economic upturn in the US providing any boost to the industrialised countries of Western Europe this year - '1993 will be a year of recession in Western Europe,' he said. The exceptionally low level of demand, especially in Germany, would leave its mark on earnings, he added.

Kloeckner-Werke, the heavily indebted steel and engineering group, is to shut one of its two blast furnaces at its Bremen works, cutting capacity by 20 per cent. Kloeckner is working out a restructuring programme after filing for protection from its creditors last December.