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Porsche's head of design is to step down and will be replaced by the chief designer at Sweden's Saab, part of General Motors.

Netherlands-born Harm Lagaay, 57, will retire on July 1. He had been responsible for the design of all Porsche models since 1989, including the Cayenne, which marked a break from Porsche's traditional, low-slung sports vehicles.

The car has powered recent profits growth at Porsche, the world's most profitable carmaker in terms of margins, accounting for more half of its sales in the six months to January 31 this year.

Wendelin Wiedeking, Porsche's chief executive, said Mr Lagaay's "design philosophy and skill have made a major contribution to the high standing of the 911, Boxster and Cayenne on all the world markets and therefore to the success of the company as a whole".

His successor is Michael Mauer, 41, a German who joined Saab as executive director responsible for design in June 2000. Colleagues say his style is identified with concept cars such as the 9-3X - described by Mr Mauer as an "offroader/coupé cross-over" and the 9-3 Sport Hatch unveiled at last September's automotive show in Frankfurt.

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