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Porsche's Mueller called in to steer VW through crisis

BERLIN (Reuters) - Porsche boss Matthias Mueller once joked that he was too old to run Volkswagen but the 62-year-old now looks certain to be given the task of steering the German car maker through the worst business crisis in its history.

Mueller, VW's former head product strategist, is backed by a majority on VW's 20-member supervisory board, which will endorse him as new CEO at a meeting on Friday, a source familiar with the matter told Reuters on Thursday.

The top job at VW suddenly became available this week when chief executive Martin Winterkorn resigned after the company admitted that it deceived U.S. regulators about how much its diesel cars pollute.

Mueller, who trained as a toolmaker before studying information technology, has worked for parts of the VW empire since the 1970s, experience that was seen as one of the decisive factors in getting the job.

Equally importantly, he enjoys the support of the Porsche-Piech family clan who own the majority of the voting rights in VW.

Mueller, promoted to VW's executive board in March, had been viewed as a favorite of family patriarch Ferdinand Piech who reportedly sought to install him as VW CEO in place of Winterkorn earlier this year.

Winterkorn survived a power struggle that saw Piech himself forced to step down as company chairman and his job looked secure until the emissions scandal broke last week.

Mueller, Rupert Stadler, who runs VW's Audi brand, and VW brand head Herbert Diess had been seen as the front-runners to replace Winterkorn as VW hastily sought a successor.

"He 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 said.

Mueller is known for a laid-back style, often appearing at car shows in a casual jumper rather than the expensively tailored suits favored by fellow executives.

But he does not lack ambition.

Mueller used the Frankfurt auto show this month to toss his hat into the ring to lead VW's sports-car operations as VW adopted a new structure to boost foreign sales and profits.

Those goals will have to take second place to a more basic need to rescue the Volkswagen group from a crisis that threatens to destroy its reputation for reliability and engineering excellence.

Mueller made his name as product manager for Audi's successful A3 model in the 1990s. He then worked as VW's head product strategist until 2010 when he was asked to lead Porsche.

Under his leadership, Porsche has expanded and expects to increase sales to 200,000 vehicles this year, hitting a long-held target three years early.

(Reporting by Ilona Wissenbach in Stuttgart and Andreas Cremer in Berlin; Writing by Keith Weir; Editing by Giles Elgood)