UPDATE 2-CNH Industrial replaces CEO, sticks with spin-off plan

* Hubertus Muhlhauser leaves with immediate effect

* Chairman Suzanne Heywood becomes interim CEO

* CFO also leaving to take up a new position (Adds source, detail, context)

MILAN, March 23 (Reuters) - The chief executive of CNH Industrial is leaving with immediate effect, the industrial vehicle maker said on Monday, less than two months after a profit warning.

CNH said Chairman Suzanne Heywood would replace Hubertus Muhlhauser as CEO until a permanent replacement was found.

A source close to the matter said Heywood’s appointment was a board initiative and that Muhlhauser’s resignation followed.

“The board reached its unanimous decision and accepted the resignation of Hubertus Muhlhauser as chief executive officer, who has left the group with immediate effect,” CNH said in a statement, adding it would stick with the group’s plan to split in two.

Muhlhauser, who took office as CEO in September 2018, could not be reached for comment.

Exor, the investment firm of Italy’s influential Agnelli family and CNH’s biggest shareholder, said in a separate statement it welcomed Heywood’s appointment to provide the business with “the decisive leadership required especially in the current global context”.

Heywood is also Exor’s managing director.

“Extraordinary times require clear and effective leadership of the kind we know Suzanne Heywood will bring to her new role,” said Exor Chairman and CEO John Elkann, who is also the chairman of automaker Fiat Chrysler.

CNH, an Italian-American maker of farm machinery, Iveco commercial vehicles, construction equipment and powertrains, slashed its 2020 earnings forecast in February, blaming weakening demand from farmers in the Americas.

The company on Friday said it was suspending most of its European assembly operations for two weeks due to the coronavirus outbreak, citing supply chain constraints.

On Monday, CNH said it had also appointed Oddone Incisa as its new chief financial officer to succeed Max Chiara, who will leave the company to take up a new position. The source said that change was not linked to the CEO replacement.

The company said a permanent CEO would be named after a thorough search process.

CNH’s board confirmed its strong support for a plan - devised when Muhlhauser was CEO - to split the group in two and list its Iveco truck, bus and FPT engine divisions separately in an effort to boost asset values and streamline its businesses. (Reporting by Giulio Piovaccari, editing by Kirsten Donovan and Mark Potter)