File picture: Benoit Tessier / Reuters.

Frankfurt, Germany - BMW CEO Harald Krueger is stepping down in the wake of the car company's weakest earnings performance in years.

The Germany company said Krueger, 53, would not seek an extension of his contract, which expires at the end of April 2020. It said the board of directors would meet to discuss the issue of a successor on July 18 and that Krueger would remain in his job until a decision is made.

Friday's news comes after BMW lost money on its automotive business in the first quarter of the year after the company was hit by a 1.4 billion euro (R22.2bn) charge for an anti-trust case and by higher upfront costs for new technology. Only the financial services and motorcycle divisions kept the group as a whole in profit.

The automotive loss was in sharp contrast to the steady profits and fat profit margins that the carmaker used to rack up quarter after quarter. Profit margins excluding the anti-trust charge had not been so weak since 2006-7 by one analyst reckoning, excluding the global financial crisis of 2008-9. BMW is facing pressures that are hitting the car industry all over, including high investment costs for developing electric and autonomous vehicles.

A company news release quoted Krueger as saying he would like to pursue "new professional endeavors."

It's typical for German executives' contracts to be renewed a year ahead of their expiration, and the lack of an announcement on a renewal had led to speculation in the German news media that his tenure might be shaky.

AP