Dr. Wolfgang Reitzle, Ford Motor Company group vice president, Premier Automotive Group, finally announced today, after days of speculation, that he has accepted a position with Linde AG as its future chief executive officer.

Reitzle will continue to assist Ford Motor Company as a consultant on product, design and marketing-related issues and his move is effective May 1.

"We are committed to the Premier Automotive Group strategy," said Bill Ford, chairman and chief executive officer.

"I want to thank Wolfgang Reitzle for his contributions to the development of our luxury brand strategy," Ford added.

"Being a CEO at Linde AG is a great opportunity for me and one I felt I could not pass up at this point in my career," said Reitzle. "Ford is heading in the right direction with their premium brand strategy and I plan to assist them in my new role in any way I can."

Reitzle joined Ford in 1999 after 23 years with BMW AG. Under his tenure at Ford, the company consolidated its luxury brands into the Premier Automotive Group and acquired Land Rover. At BMW, he served as a member of the Board of Management with responsibility for research and development and sales and marketing.

Ford also announced today a reorganisation of its luxury lineup, moving the Lincoln and Mercury brands into the company's North American Consumer Business Group.

Mark Fields, currently the Ford-appointed head of Mazda in Japan, will assume the role of group vice president, Premier Automotive Group effective July 1.

Speculation over the departure of Reitzle to the German company outside the car industry mounted in the US over the last couple of days.

Reitzle, described by some observers as “mercurial”, is reportedly off to Wiesbaden-based lift trucks, industrial gases and refrigeration company Linde AG because he failed to get himself appointed as Ford#;s “product czar” (like Bob Lutz at GM) or lined up as a future CEO.

Insiders also reportedly say he did not like reporting to Ford#;s president and COO Nick Sheele (instead of chairman and CEO Bill Ford) after previously reporting direct to the now-ousted CEO Jac Nasser.

Citing “observers”, website The Car Connection (TCC) said Reitzle#;s close associates led a “carefully orchestrated campaign” to make it appear only Reitzle could solve Ford#;s product development problems, marred by a string of embarrassing recalls soon after new models launched, to help him land the ‘product czar#; job.

The campaign apparently angered Scheele, the affable Englishman who helped transform Jaguar quality and was subsequently elevated to the ‘No. 2#; COO role by Bill Ford.

The website added that putting control of Lincoln-Mercury back in Detroit would better suit a brand that sells few cars outside North America, leaving London-based PAG to focus on overseas-based brands sold all over the world - Jaguar, Land Rover, Aston Martin and Volvo.

The Detroit News noted that Reitzle's contract called for him to collect $5 million if he stayed at Ford until the end of 2006 but says he began looking at other offers when it became clear he was not in line to run Ford in the foreseeable future.