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Eichhorn, current a director at Germany's VDA, returns to VW as head of R&D (Photo: VDA)

Volkswagen turned to a company veteran, Ulrich Eichhorn, to head its group research & development operations, as the German carmaker continues to revamp its management ranks.

Eichhorn, a managing director at the German Auto Industry Association (VDA), earlier in his career headed VW group research and was in charge of engineering at Bentley, a luxury brand that is part of the VW Group.

The appointment of Eichhorn, which takes effect January 1, is part of a major realignment of senior positions at VW following its admission in September that it has, for years, manipulated emission tests to embellish the sustainability of its vehicles.

In other senior-management changes, Fred Kappler, a senior group executive who has held positions at VW, Skoda and the FAW-VW joint venture in China, will take over as head of  sales.

Michael Mauer will become the company's head of group design, while retaining his current role as chief designer of the Porsche sports car brand. Porsche also belongs to the VW Group.

Wolfram Thomas, chief environmental officer at Seat, will take charge of group production and Ralf-Gerhard Willner will oversee the company's product and modular toolkit strategy. He currently is head of vehicle concepts at Audi.

VW Group CEO Matthias Mueller said that, in the new management structure, the number of senior executives reporting to him has been halved. That will "speed up the decision-making process, reduce complexity and increase efficiency," he said in a statement.

He also reaffirmed that VW wants to "play a decisive role in shaping the transformation of the automobile." Said Mueller: "We are focusing in particular on the technological changes that impact the future of mobility; from electrification to the digital transformation."