BMW of North America's current CEO Jim O'Donnell will retire this fall, with German executive and former head of sales in Europe and Japan Ludwig Willisch taking his place. The surprise move comes after strong June sales saw BMW outsell Mercedes-Benz and extend its lead as the top-selling luxury brand in the U.S. for 2011.

Willisch and O'Donnell will work together for one month starting September 1 as a transitional period, with Willisch taking over CEO duties full-time as of October. O'Donnell, at 61, is just past the company's mandatory retirement age of 60.

In addition to overseeing BMW's sales efforts outside of Germany, Willisch has also been president of BMW's M Division, the performance arm famous for its high-performance models like the M3, and most recently, the 1-Series M Coupe. He has been with BMW since 1996.

[Automotive News -- sub. req.]