A high-level executive shuffle is underway at German auto giant Daimler, parent of the Mercedes-Benz and Smart brands.

Daimler confirmed Wednesday that longtime CEO Dieter Zetsche will pass the reins to current sales chief Ola Källenius in 2019. Källenius will also be responsible for the leadership role at Mercedes.

Zetsche won't be leaving the company, however. As part of a succession plan for Daimler's board of directors, Zetsche is only stepping down in order to comply with a two-year cooling-off period necessary to join the company's board of directors, which is due to elect a new chairman in 2021.

Zetsche will still need the approval of shareholders for the chairman role during the company's annual meeting in 2021. It's likely a safe bet given Zetsche's successful running of Daimler since 2006, during which time he oversaw the company's split from Chrysler as well as the global financial crisis.

Daimler's current chairman is Manfred Bischoff whose contract is set to expire in 2021.

Daimler said in a statement that the move is to prepare the company for the coming transformation of the auto industry. This transformation is due not only to technological change such as electrification and self-driving capability but also major restrictions expected to be introduced on diesels.

Only last week it emerged that Daimler along with the BMW Group and Volkswagen Group will face an European Union inquiry seeking to determine whether the automakers conspired to limit development on emissions treatment systems.