Knirsch is head of powertrain at Audi. He takes up his new position Jan 1 (Photo: Audi)

Stefan Knirsch will succeed Ulrich Hackenberg as head of technical development at Audi effective January 1.

The 49-year-old is currently head of powertrain of the Volkswagen Group's premium brand. He previously worked at Porsche and suppliers Pierburg and Rheinmetall.

"Stefan Knirsch has a good knowledge of the group and of technical development at Audi," brand CEO Rupert Stadler said in a statement. "We know him as a creative and visionary man of action."

And Volkswagen Group CEO Matthias Mueller added that Knirsch "has a broad experience of the automotive industry, and not only from the perspective of a car manufacturer, but also of a supplier."

Hackenberg is leaving his position in the wake of revelations that Volkswagen has systematically manipulated emissions tests for as many as 11 million vehicles. It remains unclear which senior managers were actually involved in the deceit, but Hackenberg was one of a number of top executives closely involved in all group technical development. In early stages of his career, he was also in charge of VW brand technical development.

Hackenberg is widely acknowledged to be the father of VW's modular toolkit system, which allows the carmaker to use standardized architectures to build different cars across its 12 brands.

In a statement, Mueller said: “Above all, the modular toolkit system is inseparably connected with the name of Ulrich Hackenberg. He had that idea already in the early nineties at Audi. Today, the entire group profits from it.”