Mueller, who had been chief of VW's Porsche subsidiary, is a long-time colleague of Martin Winterkorn, who resigned this week as VW CEO in the wake of the automaker's admission that it had faked emissions tests on diesel engines since at least 2009.
The new CEO assumes command of an automaker riven by dissension and intrigue, one that is sure to face international censure, fines, sanctions and, perhaps, defection of consumers. Winterkorn just a few months ago had seemingly prevailed in a power struggle with his former boss, Ferdinand Piech, a supervisory board member and owner of 10% of VW. Piech resigned as chairman.
Though Mueller was seen as the front-runner to succeed Winterkorn, there were two other contenders: Rupert Stadler, who runs Audi; and Herbert Diess, a former BMW executive in charge of the VW brand.
Mueller "is a good choice even though he may be seen as a transitory CEO until another internal candidate such as VW brand CEO Diess has earned their stripes," Evercore ISI analyst Arndt Ellinghorst told Reuters.
VW shares have been clobbered by the emissions scandal and Winterkorn's acceptance of responsibility and resignation. The stock is down 31% this week, with little sign of recovery, shrinking VW's market capitalization by about $22.4 billion.
Christian Klingler, 47, VW's sales and marketing chief, will leave the company. Winfried Vahland, who had run Skoda, will be put in charge of a new North American region, while Michael Horn, who had been rumored to be out as head of the U.S., will stay in office.
The U.S. is seen as a key weak spot for VW, which has struggled for decades to match the popularity of Japanese models with American consumers. Mueller, a one-time apprentice toolmaker who studied computer science, is known for product strategy, first at Audi and then at VW.
Doron Levin is the host of "In the Driver's Seat" on SiriusXM Insight 121, broadcast on Saturday at noon and Sunday at 9 a.m.
The writer has no financial interest in the aforementioned companies.