HANOVER, Germany-In a surprise move, Stephan Kessel has relinquished his post as chairman of Continental A.G., citing ``differences concerning the strategic orientation of the corporation,'' according to a Continental statement.
Continental's board appointed Manfred Wennemer, 53, previously head of the ContiTech non-tire products group, to replace Mr. Kessel.
Since Mr. Kessel's appointment as chairman two years ago, Continental has continued to shift its focus-from its traditional tire and rubber products business-into automotive systems supply, concentrating on chassis management, including brakes, electronics and suspension systems, as well as tires.
Earlier this year, Conti spent $550 million to acquire control of German brake and electronics supplier Temic GmbH, in a further effort to reduce its dependency on the tire and rubber market.
More recently, Conti took its ContiTech businesses off the market.
Wolfgang Ziebart, the executive board member in charge of Continental's automotive systems division, was appointed deputy chairman.
Mr. Kessel, 47, had been chairman since mid-1999, when he succeeded Hubertus von Gruenberg. Continental said Mr. Kessel departs the company on ``very amicable terms.''
Mr. Wennemer has been with Conti since 1994, and head of ContiTech since May 1998.
Gerhard Lerch, general manager of ContiTech Holding GmbH, is taking over sole management responsibility for that business, Conti said.