Reports circulating in Germany and the US suggest that Ford#;s Premier Automotive Group vice president Wolfgang Reitzle may leave Ford to head the German engineering and technology company Linde AG.

Manager-magazin said on its website earlier this week that Reitzle had been proposed as Linde's management board chairman by supervisory board chairman Hans Meinhardt.

“Is WR about to jump ship?” the website asked its readers. “The one-time BMW crown prince and current head of the Ford luxury division, which now also owns Aston Martin and Jaguar, is rumoured to be planning his departure. The paradoxical reason: Reitzle is up for promotion.

“Is he off or not? As yet it's not quite clear but there are many indicators that he is.”

Automotive News Europe cited Ford sources as saying the reference to promotion meant that Reitzle was unable to come to a satisfactory agreement regarding a possible posting as Ford#;s global product czar.

The Detroit News also reported this, saying that Reitzle's request for the position - similar to that held by Bob Lutz at GM - and an assurance he was in line to become CEO had been declined.

Another source told Automotive News that the "mercurial" Reitzle could also be practicing a form of career brinkmanship, assessing the reaction to the expected announcement to improve his career path at Ford.

The Detroit News, citing a "high-ranking Ford executive" said that chairman William Clay Ford Jr. had given Reitzle until the end of this week to decide whether he is staying at Ford or defecting.

Meanwhile, The Platow Brief business newsletter also said that Reitzle could leave Ford to head Linde.

An official Ford spokesman told Automotive News Europe that Reitzle had not announced his departure but declined to comment further on the speculation. The newspaper added that Ford sources had told it that Reitzle and Bill Ford had talked informally about the future of the German, who was hired by ousted CEO Jac Nasser.

Amidst rumours circulating this week that Reitzle wants more freedom at Ford, Bloomberg News said that Reitzle does not want to report to COO Nick Scheele and the German magazine Der Spiegel reported that Reitzle might leave Ford for General Motors.

The Detroit News, citing "people familiar with the situation", said that Reitzle used to report directly to Nasser and has chafed at taking orders from Scheele who Bill Ford elevated to president and COO last October.

Reitzle has also grown increasingly impatient with the growing conflict between Scheele's cost-cutting mandate and his own task of honing the PAG brands into world-class competitors, the newspaper added.

Reitzle, once number two at BMW, was hired by Nasser in 1999 to head the new Premier Automotive Group which groups Volvo, Jaguar, Land Rover, Lincoln and Aston Martin under one umbrella.

Since Nasser#;s departure late last year, there have been a variety of rumours regarding the future shape of PAG.

The Car Connection website said last November that there were rumours that PAG, run from Reitzle#;s offices in London and the Lincoln-Mercury HQ in Irvine, California, could return to more direct control in Detroit.

In an interview at the time, TCC asked Reitzle if he felt threatened by the change of management at Ford.

Reitzle#;s response: “Sure, Jac Nasser, I was very close to him, he hired me, I had a very good personal relationship to him and he was a great supporter of our strategy. Therefore it is not a surprise to me, when you raise such a question, because when a CEO leaves that his closest people also leave.

“But, you know, I am very loyal to the company and I am loyal to the strategy. And I think the strategy is a convincing one, and this principal is independent of the people. And, too, I was very instrumental in creating, in defining the strategy for PAG. On the other hand, I think it is such a convincing strategy what I know from Bill Ford and Nick Scheele, especially from Bill Ford, that he hundred per cent supports that strategy and there is no reason to change.”

TCC then asked: “So from your point of view, you've just gone from reporting to Jac to reporting to Nick?”

Reitzle replied: “Yeah.”

PAG's success is seen as critical to Ford's recovery plan and the group is expected to account for one-third of Ford's corporate profits by mid-decade. The company announched its fourth consecutive quarterly loss - of $800 million - this week.

"Without Wolfgang Reitzle, I think there's a good chance the PAG strategy could unravel," Saul Rubin, an auto industry analyst with UBS Warburg, told the Detroit News.

"He is synonymous with their luxury strategy."