Benz Still Sidelined as Daimler Name Change Looms


The great-great grandniece of German automotive pioneer Carl Benz urged DaimlerChrysler shareholders on Thursday to restore her ancestor's name to the masthead and not call the group simply Daimler.

But the German carmaker's plans for its streamlined new name -- erasing an unwelcome legacy of the failed $36 billion merger in 1998 that yoked Daimler-Benz and Chrysler Group – seemed well on track at an extraordinary shareholder meeting.

"The company could also be called Benz AG," suggested Heidemarie Hirsch, whose family tree includes the man who in 1886 filed the first patent for an automobile.

"Give the company back its soul!"

Some 5,000 shareholders were due to vote later on Thursday.

Eager to respect the Benz name and head off investor ire, Chief Executive Dieter Zetsche earlier told shareholders the group will call its passenger car business Mercedes-Benz Cars.

"The proud name of Benz will not only remain prominent, it will have significantly higher visibility," he said.

The move means the premium division Mercedes Car Group will become known as Mercedes-Benz Cars, the van unit will be called Mercedes-Benz Vans and DaimlerChrysler Bank will be renamed Mercedes-Benz Bank.

Benz's company merged with that of Gottlieb Daimler in 1926 but his name was sacrificed when the now abandoned transatlantic merger with Chrysler went through seven years ago.

What's in a Name?

Wrestling over the group's name is nothing new. It nearly torpedoed the spectacular deal at the very beginning.

With Chrysler's board of directors gathered at the New York offices of investment bank CS First Boston on the morning of May 5, 1998 to approve the merger, Chrysler Chairman Robert Eaton called former Daimler-Benz Chief Executive Juergen Schrempp to say the group's new name had to be ChryslerDaimler-Benz.

Schrempp countered that he had already dropped Benz as a compromise and the name had to be DaimlerChrysler or else the whole deal was off. The Chrysler chiefs backed down.

This paved the way for a transformational deal that Schrempp crowed was a marriage made in heaven, but which never lived up to its potential.

Fed up with years of yo-yo earnings, the group sold a majority stake in Chrysler to buyout group Cerberus earlier this year.

"The group name Daimler clearly indicates that we are writing a new chapter of our history, while at the same time continuing our tradition as the inventor of the automobile," Zetsche said.

"And this rich heritage will remain an essential part of our identity -- of our DNA, so to speak," he said.

He said the company paid Ford Motor $20 million earlier this for rights for extended use of the Daimler name, which Ford's Jaguar continues to use on some high-end cars.

Before the meeting, the company reported Mercedes Car Group sales rose 7.4% in September to a record 124,600 vehicles, boosted by the new C-Class sedan.

In the first nine months of the year, Mercedes Car Group -- the world's second-biggest premium carmaker after BMW -- achieved a slight increase of 0.9% in vehicle sales to 942,300, it added.

Mercedes Car Group includes Smart minicars and super-luxury Maybach limousines as well as the Mercedes-Benz brand.

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