New Rolls-Royce chief Karl-Heinz Kalbfell would have been the natural choice as BMW ‘s first president and CEO of the famous British marque.

But when BMW filled the post in 2002 the company was afraid of offending purists after its fierce battle with Volkswagen over ownership of the luxury brand, Automotive News Europe said.

BMW thought it would be a good idea to have a British CEO, so it named Tony Gott, who had just left Volkswagen-owned Bentley Motors, as the boss.

Gott resigned unexpectedly last week and BMW immediately named Kalbfell as his successor.

Kalbfell, 54, was the primary architect of Project Rolls-Royce in the three years after BMW bought the marque in 1998. He is the first German to head Rolls-Royce.
He oversaw the development of the brand’s new factory at Goodwood , England, and the first BMW-made Rolls-Royce, the Phantom, which was introduced in January last year.

The reshuffle means that just one member of Rolls-Royce’s six-person board, the former chairman of aero-engines maker Rolls-Royce plc Sir Ralph Robins, is British.

Rolls-Royce spokesman Graham Biggs said Gott resigned for personal reasons.

The resignation apparently took BMW by surprise, but sources say it had actually been expected for some time.

Gott spent about 20 years at Rolls-Royce and Bentley.

In 1998, VW bought Bentley and BMW acquired the rights to the Rolls-Royce nameplate. BMW and VW made a deal that allowed VW to operate the two brands until the separation on December 31, 2002.

Gott took over as CEO of Rolls-Royce and Bentley Motor Cars Ltd. in January 1999, at the time VW controlled both brands, but he left in November 2001.

BMW hired Gott to run Project Rolls-Royce in January 2002. He started in the job in March of that year.

Rolls-Royce built 480 Phantoms at Goodwood in 2003, the first year of the new factory. Of those, 300 were sold, Biggs said. This year the company expects to build nearly 1,000 cars, which is the factory’s capacity.

Rolls-Royce now has 63 dealers in 25 countries including 29 in the US, its largest market.