BMW N.A. chief Kuhnt moving to post in Germany; former MINI boss to succeed him

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BMW of North America CEO Bernhard Kuhnt, 53, is leaving his post to run the automaker’s German business.

Sebastian Mackensen, 49, a former Volkswagen Group executive with U.S. market experience, will take over in North America effective Sept. 1, BMW said Friday.

In his new position, Mackensen will manage all sales, marketing and distribution activities for BMW Group from Canada to Argentina, in addition to serving as president and CEO of BMW of North America.

Mackensen is a senior vice president and head of BMW’s German market. Previously, he ran BMW’s Mini unit.

Mackensen has extensive experience in North America, including as Audi’s sales chief for the Americas for five years.

Before that, he held management roles in customer relations and business development at Porsche Cars North America.

In his new role, Mackensen must steer BMW through the lingering effects of the COVID-19 pandemic and this year’s microchip supply shortage. Meanwhile, BMW is gearing up to take its battle with Mercedes-Benz to a new front in the United States — electric vehicles. Early next year, BMW will introduce two electric models — the i4 four-door fastback and the iX midsize crossover.

BMW expects electrified vehicles, including plug-in hybrids, to account for about a fourth of its U.S. sales in the next five years, Kuhnt told Automobile News | tomobile.org this year.

“We believe customers are going in this direction,” Kuhnt said. “There’s a higher interest in electrified vehicles than there has been before.”

WINNING STREAK

Kuhnt, a former Mercedes-Benz executive and dealer, took over the North America business in 2017.

Under his watch, BMW bested Mercedes-Benz to grab the U.S. luxury sales crown in 2019 — its first win since 2015. The Munich automaker then defended its pole position in 2020, despite pandemic-driven production and business stoppages.

Kuhnt, who is well-liked by BMW’s U.S. dealers, also oversaw a product offensive, highlighted by the introduction of the X7 flagship crossover and 8 Series convertible and Gran Coupe.

But it hasn’t been all smooth sailing.

Last year, BMW and two U.S. subsidiaries agreed to pay an $18 million fine to resolve accusations that they disclosed misleading information about the automaker’s retail sales volume in the United States. The Securities and Exchange Commission said that from 2015 to 2019, BMW inflated reported retail sales, which helped it close the gap between actual retail volume and internal targets and “publicly maintain a leading retail sales position relative to other premium automotive companies.”

From 1983 to 2003, Kuhnt worked for Mercedes-Benz, including a stint as vice president of sales for Mercedes-Benz USA, overseeing divisions in Chicago, San Francisco and Los Angeles. Later, he headed Mercedes-Benz dealerships in Anaheim, Calif., and Chandler, Ariz., before joining Jaguar Land Rover in 2009.

BMW on Friday also announced Stefan Kramer will join BMW of North America as executive vice president and CFO. Kramer replaces Stefan Richmann, who will assume the role of CEO for BMW Group Financial Services in the United States and Americas region.

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