updated 2/18/2004 11:36:08 AM ET 2004-02-18T16:36:08

German-U.S. automaker DaimlerChrysler said Wednesday it would extend chief executive Juergen Schrempp’s contract by three years to 2008, and named a new finance chief as part of a series of top management changes.

The company’s supervisory board — equivalent to a U.S. board of directors — named the head of the company’s services division, Bodo Uebber, as its new chief financial officer. He will keep his current job when he replaces Manfred Gentz on Dec. 16.

Additionally, the firm said that Chrysler division manufacturing executive Thomas LaSorda would move up to become chief operating officer, putting a U.S. auto industry veteran in the No. 2 post at the Chrysler division, based in Auburn Hills, Mich.

The current Chrysler No. 2, Wolfgang Bernhard, will return to Germany to take over the company’s Mercedes Car Group on May 1.

The company said Mercedes head Juergen Huppert will, effective Aug. 1, take over DaimlerChrysler’s executive automotive committee, a body created by Schrempp to push the company’s integration as a globalized automaker with partners Mitsubishi and Hyundai.

LaSorda, a native of Windsor, Canada, will also get a seat as a deputy member of the company’s management board — under German law, the top executive body headed by Schrempp. He joined DaimlerChrysler in 2000 after more than 20 years with General Motors Corp.

Schrempp’s extension, from 2005 to 2008, was not officially ratified at the supervisory board meeting, but the company’s statement said that board “unanimously supports” the move and that it intends to make it official when it next meets. No reason was immediately given for the delay.

Schrempp has been a central figure in the $1 billion suit against DaimlerChrysler brought by investor Kirk Kerkorian, who claims Schrempp-led Daimler-Benz engineered a takeover of Chrysler Corp. in 1998, then cheated him out of an acquisition fee by claiming it was a merger of equals.

DaimlerChrysler insists the merger was one of equals and that Kerkorian, whose Tracinda Corp. was Chrysler’s largest shareholder at the time, grew disgruntled when the stock price fell.
Testimony in the bench trial ended last week in Wilmington, Del. It’s not certain when the judge will rule.

DaimlerChrysler said earlier this month its 2003 profit fell sharply as the Chrysler turnaround and a one-time financial adjustment weighed on the bottom line. Chrysler’s U.S. market share fell to 12.8 percent last year from 13.1 percent in 2002, and its U.S. sales fell 3.5 percent in 2003.

The company is scheduled to provide a more detailed earnings report Thursday.

Bernhard, who along with CEO Dieter Zetsche has spearheaded Chrysler’s turnaround program, will leave the division at a critical time. While many cost-cutting targets have been reached, the division this year begins in earnest another key aspect of the revitalization — introducing nine of 25 all-new or redesigned vehicles planned over the next three years.

Known for his energetic style, Bernhard was to be a key figure overseeing the launches. Now the role will shift to LaSorda, who joined Chrysler in 2000 as senior vice president in charge of powertrain manufacturing.

LaSorda is credited with helping Chrysler achieve marked production improvements in the past couple of years. In particular, Chrysler improved its assembly plant productivity by 8.3 percent from 2001 to 2002, the company’s best year-over-year improvement since the data was first tracked in 1989, according to the Harbour Report.

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