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BMW North America gets new CEO amid dip in U.S. sales

BMW North America CEO Bernhard Kuhnt
Regime change is afoot in BMW’s North American division.

Bernhard Kuhnt will take over as CEO of BMW of North America effective March 1. Current CEO Ludwig Willisch will relinquish that title, but will retain his position as head of BMW Group Region Americas, according to a company press release. The reshuffle still leaves Willisch with a considerable amount of influence.

Kuhnt and the heads of all BMW regional subsidiaries in North America, Central, America, and South America will report to Willisch, according to Automotive News (subscription required). Willisch has held the dual roles of North American CEO and head of BMW Group Region Americas since 2012. Willisch assumed the CEO position in 2011, and held various other executives positions for BMW in Europe prior to that, including head of the company’s European sales region and head of the M performance division.

Incoming CEO Kuhnt is currently responsible for BMW Group Importer markets, overseeing sales in more than 80 countries, per BMW’s press release. He does have some previous experience with the North American market, having worked in U.S. sales management for more than nine years for other automakers. He joined BMW in 2015 after a stint at Jaguar Land Rover.

Petter Witt, executive vice president of operations for BMW North America, will also leave his position at the end of this month. BMW said Witt is “moving on to a new role outside the company.” A successor was not announced, meaning that finding one will likely be one of Kuhnt’s first tasks.

The executive shuffle comes during a dip in BMW’s U.S. sales. Those sales dropped 9.5 percent in 2016 to 313,174 vehicles, putting BMW behind both Mercedes-Benz and Lexus. Sales increased 0.1 percent in January to 18,109 units, which put BMW in second place among luxury brands, but still well behind Mercedes’ 25,527 sales in the first month of the year.

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