Volkswagen Czech units Skoda Auto has named VW South Africa chief Thomas Schaefer as its new chairman as part of a wider shake-up at the group.

Schaefer replaces Bernhard Maier, who left the Czech firm last month after nearly five years during which he led the 125-year-old Skoda to record profits, Reuters noted.

Skoda is the Czech Republic's biggest exporter but its success has sometimes caused friction within Volkswagen whose labour boss has criticised it for cannibalising sales, the news agency said.

It delivered 1.24m cars worldwide in 2019 with China and Germany as its top markets. Like other carmakers, Skoda is battling to get back from shutdowns due to the coronavirus crisis and now faces uncertainty over demand.

However, it said last week it saw signs of recovery, after first half deliveries crashed 31% and group chief executive Herbert Diess told Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (FAZ) Skoda – one of VW's 12 brands – needed to do more to compete with South Korean and French rivals.

Labour unions, traditionally strong at Skoda Auto, told Reuters it was unclear what Schaefer's appointment would mean for the direction of the carmaker.

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Schaefer, who took up the post with immediate effect, joined VW from Mercedes-Benz in 2012 and has, since 2015, headed Volkswagen Group South Africa which produces vehicles and engines mainly for export. It hit record output in 2019.

Schaefer also ran VW's broader African business and spearheaded the development of assembly hubs in countries including Ghana, Nigeria and Kenya, Reuters noted.