Volkswagen South Africa's managing director, Hans-Christian Maergner, will replace David Fleming as the head of the German manufacturer's embattled Brazilian division on January 1.

Volkswagen South Africa's managing director, Hans-Christian Maergner will replace David Fleming as the head of the auto manufacturer's Brazilian division on January 1.

While Fleming assumes his new, unspecified responsibilities next year, Maergner will be tasked with restoring Volkswagen's position as the top car producer in Brazil. Volkswagen is currently the third biggest manufacturer in Brazil after being the leading automotive company for several years and has not posted a profit since 1997, according to .

Maergner has been with VWSA since 1998, and has successfully headed the Uitenhage operation's extensive export programme, which has grown to R6 billion per annum in fully built cars and component exports. Car manufacturing volumes, at 77 000 units per annum, almost doubled during his tenure.

After arriving during a slump in the local motor industry, he successfully headed efforts to exploit opportunities provided by the government's Motor Industry Development Programme (MIDP) and within months of his appointment, VWSA was offered a contract to build 62 000 Golfs for overseas markets. Current exports include the new Polo, which is being built for the Asia Pacific region.

Maergner was instrumental in converting VWSA from a loss-making operation in 1997 to full profitability by 2000. By becoming the continent's biggest exporter of passenger vehicles, the company's financial results have also improved drastically over the last five years.

Earlier this year, Volkswagen in Brazil met fierce opposition over a plan to axe 4 000 Brazilian workers while its sales slumped significantly as interest rates hit sky-high levels and the Brazilian economy slipped into a recession during the first two quarters.

Volkswagen's third-quarter profits were cut in half, mainly because of a R924 million restructuring charge to pay for costs associated with the Brazilian job cuts.

Maergner's successor will be Andreas Tostmann, who currently heads the Salzgitter plant in Germany.