What's in a Name? For Daimler, Its Future


The ill-fated merger of Daimler-Benz and Chrysler in 1998 will officially fade into history's rear-view mirror on Thursday if shareholders approve changing the German carmaker's name to just Daimler.

But the seemingly straightforward effort to erase Chrysler from the corporate identity and focus on the group's roots has evoked strong emotions in the German heartland, which never warmed to the DaimlerChrysler name in the first place.

Management and the supervisory board want a one-line change in the statutes to read: "The name of the corporation is Daimler. The registered office of the corporation is in Stuttgart."

It seems sure to pass, even though adherents of German automotive pioneer Carl Friedrich Benz, whose company merged with that of Gottlieb Daimler in 1926, are outraged that their man has -- again -- been dropped from the corporate masthead.

"A return to including the name of one of the founders, Benz, would ... constitute a certain degree of compensation for the many years of frustration for the employees, particularly in the traditional Benz plants, who deserve to find equal the employees of the Daimler plants,"
shareholder Bernd Gans has submitted as a counterproposal.

Hans Diem, another shareholder, has asked the extraordinary meeting in Berlin to name the group Daimler-Benz, Benz-Daimler, or simply Benz.

"Problems might arise in connection with a change of name to Daimler because there is a vehicle manufacturer in England that has a license to use Daimler as the name of its vehicles,"  he added, referring to the nameplate on high-end Jaguar cars.

Benz also had a real ring for shareholder Wilm Diedrich  Mueller.

"The word Benz should be just as clearly connected with the present the word Daimler, but the word Benz has the unbeatable advantage compared with the word Daimler that it is shorter and consists of half as many syllables," he noted.

The company says adopting Daimler reflects the legal aspects of brands as well as strategic factors, adding it has a deal with Jaguar owner Ford Motor on using the Daimler name.

"The name Daimler has a high profile and evokes a high degree of confidence in the expertise of the corporation as a globally respected manufacturer of automobiles and commercial vehicles," it said in response to the counterproposals.

"With Daimler, we will also avoid overlaps between the name of the corporation and the most valuable automobile brand name in the world, Mercedes-Benz," it said, pointing out that all
plants that make Mercedes-Benz cars will carry that name, too.

Cerberus Capital Management this year bought a majority stake in loss-making U.S. arm Chrysler, breaking up the $36 billion deal of 1998 that never lived up to its billing.

DaimlerChrysler stock fell 11% between the first listing on Nov. 17, 1998 and last month's switch to the stock symbol DAI from DCX. Over the same period, the German blue-chip index rose 57%.