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Old 11th May 2004, 11:54   #1
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Porsche design chief to step down
By Ralph Atkins in Frankfurt
Published: May 10 2004 18:48 | Last Updated: May 10 2004 18:48

Porsche's head of design is to step down and will be replaced by the chief designer at Sweden's Saab, part of General Motors.

Netherlands-born Harm Lagaay, 57, will retire on July 1. He had been responsible for the design of all Porsche models since 1989, including the Cayenne, which marked a break from Porsche's traditional, low-slung sports vehicles.

The car has powered recent profits growth at Porsche, the world's most profitable carmaker in terms of margins, accounting for more half of its sales in the six months to January 31 this year.

Wendelin Wiedeking, Porsche's chief executive, said Mr Lagaay's "design philosophy and skill have made a major contribution to the high standing of the 911, Boxster and Cayenne on all the world markets and therefore to the success of the company as a whole".

His successor is Michael Mauer, 41, a German who joined Saab as executive director responsible for design in June 2000. Colleagues say his style is identified with concept cars such as the 9-3X - described by Mr Mauer as an "offroader/coupé cross-over" and the 9-3 Sport Hatch unveiled at last September's automotive show in Frankfurt.

Saab has struggled to maintain its individuality while also producing profitable vehicles but Simon Padian, head of project design at Saab, said Mr Mauer has "a lot of vision and passion for the product". He added: "Porsche is also a company with a very strong heritage and you cannot ignore that. I am sure [Mauer] will inject a certain amount of fresh thinking into the brand."

Wolfgang Dürheimer, the Porsche board member responsible for research and development, said Mr Mauer would "impact new, forward looking stimuli to design at Porsche".

Before Saab, Mr Mauer - described by those who have worked with him as "young, dynamic, sporty looking" - spent most of his career at Mercedes where he was responsible for designing its small A-Class as well as SLK models. He moved to Mercedes' design studio in Tokyo in 1998 and a year later was put in charge of design at the Smart division, where he was responsible for the Smart car's evolution.
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