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CNBC's LeBeau: VW Chief's Exit Spurs Talk Of Return to Chrysler


The head of Volkswagen's VW brand, Wolfgang Bernhard, is leaving the company at the end of the month, fueling speculation that he may return to DaimlerChrysler and possible replace Chrysler CEO Tom LaSorda, according to CNBC's Phil LeBeau.

LeBeau said there will be speculation in Detroit and on Wall Street that DaimlerChrysler CEO Dieter Zetsche may bring Bernhard back to the company to replace LaSorda.

LaSorda is in the midst of finalizing a turnaround plan for Chrysler that he will present to the Daimler board by the end of February, LeBeau said.

In a live interview on Squawk Box on Monday, LaSorda acknowledged he's on the hot seat. But he also told LeBeau that he believes he will remain in charge at Chrysler to see through this restructuring and that he has the cofidence of Zetsche. Zetsche himself has made remarks in recent weeks that he has confidence in LaSorda.

However, Wall Street will focus on the fact that Bernhard was Zetsche's right hand man in the Chrysler turnaround six years ago, LeBeau said. The two worked very well together, and if Zetsche wanted to replace LaSorda, he'd be able to bring in a CEO who knows Chrysler intimately, and is not afraid to make the tough cuts Chrysler needs.

One other possibility, LeBeau said, is Zetsche bringing Bernhard back to run Mercedes. Bernhard was scheduled to take over the luxury unit when a boardroom fight with former chairman Juergen Schremp lead to Bernhard getting booted. Zetsche has run, and continues to run Mercedes while also overseeing all of DaimlerChrysler. He may want to give up doing that job, and Bernhard would be a smart choice given his histrory with Mercedes, LeBeau said.

Chrysler PR executives have stressed--and continue to stress--that LaSorda has the full confidence of Dieter Zetsche and has no plans to go anywhere, LeBeau said.