Volkswagen, Europe's biggest car maker, said Thursday it has appointed board member Wolfgang Bernhard, a former star Chrysler manager, to run its troubled VW brand with effect from May 1. Bernhard "will assume the chairmanship of the Volkswagen brand group starting on May 1," the carmaker said in a statement. The 44-year-old marathon runner was originally appointed to the management board on Feb. 1, initially without a portfolio. But he had been tipped to take over the running of the VW brand before the end of 2005. The "early" appointment "completes the reorganization of responsibilities on the management board begun two years ago," said chairman Bernd Pischetsrieder. Bernhard, to replace Folker Weissgerber, 65, who retires on June 30, was one of the men credited with turning around DaimlerChrysler's loss-making Chrysler unit. The VW brand skidded into the red for the first time in a decade last year as a result of slack demand, price wars in the US and increased competition in the key market of China. The division, which covers the VW, Skoda, Bentley, Bugatti brands, turned in an operating loss of 44 million euros ($58 million) last year. Pischetsrieder told shareholders on Thursday that VW expected earnings to improve during the coming quarters, after a less than satisfactory first quarter in which it lifted operating profit by 42.2 percent to 464 million euros and pre-tax profit nearly tripled to 121 million euros.