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Diess has headed BMW's R&D since 2012 (Photo: BMW)

In a surprise move, BMW R&D chief Herbert Diess will move to Volkswagen  to head the brand's core VW passenger car brand. He will take over  - on October 1, 2015 - from VW Group CEO Martin Winterkorn, who will continue as chairman of the management board of Europe's largest car group.

"With Herbert Diess we will be welcoming an outstanding personality and one of the most capable minds in the automotive industry to our company," Winterkorn said in a statement. He added that the arrival of Diess will also put the brand "on an even broader footing."

VW has embarked on a major cost-cutting drive as it aims to shore up profitability across its various divisions and brands. The VW brand, in particular, has underperformed in terms of profitability.

Diess, 56, holds an engineering degree from Munich Technical University. He started his industry career at supplier Robert Bosch in 1989. He joined BMW in 1996 and ran the premium car maker's plants in Oxford and Birmingham before becoming head of the company's motorcycle operations.

From 2007 til 2012 Diess was in charge of purchasing. He took charge of BMW's development in 2012.