BERLIN, June 16 (Reuters) - Audi's engine development chief is leaving the company just as the luxury brand is pushing into electric cars and faces growing competition from its German peer Mercedes-Benz.
Stefan Knirsch, who has led powertrain development at Audi - Volkswagen's flagship luxury division - since late 2013, will leave the company at his own request, the carmaker said on Tuesday, confirming a report in Germany's Auto Motor und Sport magazine.
Audi did not say when Knirsch would leave the company or whether he had found new employment.
A former head of quality management and engine development at Porsche, Knirsch leaves Audi as it is broadening its range of electric cars and exploring self-driving vehicle technology.
Having boasted in its advertising slogan of "Vorsprung durch Technik" - advancement through technology - since the 1970s, Audi drew criticism a few years ago from some motor industry analysts for its reluctance to embrace innovative technologies and develop new vehicles.
Four years after Audi surpassed Daimler's Mercedes-Benz in luxury car sales worldwide, its lead over its Stuttgart-based rival is shrinking.
Mercedes' sales surged 14 percent in January-May from a year earlier to 729,000 cars, while Audi's rose only 4.3 percent although they totalled 745,000 cars. By comparison, Audi outsold Mercedes by 91,000 cars in 2014, which saw BMW take the luxury car sales crown for a 10th year. (Reporting by Andreas Cremer; Editing by Susan Fenton)