HARALD HAMPRECHT

Five candidates touted as Mercedes' new U.S. chief

Harald Hamprecht is Editor-in-Chief at Automotive News Europe.Harald Hamprecht is Editor-in-Chief at Automotive News Europe.
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A hot search is underway to find the next head of the brand's U.S. operations to replace Ernst Lieb, who was fired in October amid a crackdown on ethics violations at the company.

The U.S. is Mercedes' second biggest single market after Germany so Lieb's successor needs to be picked quickly. And the new boss must continue to have a strong and close relationship with the brand's U.S. dealers - just like Lieb.

Five names are being touted at Mercedes' global headquarters in Stuttgart, Germany. Here they are in alphabetical order:

• Marcus Breitschwert, former Mercedes-Benz Canada CEO, who moved to head Mercedes in the U.K. in April. Under Breitschwerdt's leadership Mercedes-Benz Canada more than doubled its sales and market share from 2003 to 2010 but Mercedes bosses may not want to tear him from his UK role so soon. He joined the carmaker in 1991 and has held various senior roles in marketing, planning and sales, including director of marketing strategy for Mercedes-Benz Cars.

• Wolf-Dieter Kurz, CEO of Daimler's Turkish subsidiary since 2009. Kurz joined Mercedes in 1989 and has held various positions in sales and marketing, aftersales and parts, project and product management. Between 2004 and 2009 he was head of marketing for Mercedes passenger vehicles.

• Matthias Luehrs, head of sales for Mercedes's passenger cars. He is close to Mercedes global sales and marketing chief Joachim Schmidt and earlier worked as managing director of Mercedes Cars for the Australia/Pacific region and as CEO of Mercedes-Benz Latina.

• Philipp Schiemer, head of marketing at Mercedes passenger cars, also one of Schmidt's confidants, who has held leadership roles in project management and sales in markets like Brasil.

• Michael Slater, head of Mercedes sales in the U.S. He has no experience in leading a big market, but company insiders say it might be the smart option to promote him because he is familiar with Lieb's masterplan for the U.S. market and already has close contact to dealers.

Theoretically, a hot candidate should be Klaus Maier, CEO of Mercedes-Benz China (not the Klaus Maier who was Mercedes former head of global sales and marketing and left the company in 2009). "But we won't tear a hole in China to fill one in the U.S.," a Daimler source told Automotive News Europe.

A less likely, but still possible option: Somebody from within finance, similar to Daimler's appointment of Till Conrad as its France boss in January.

It's delicate decision. Whoever accepts the new challenge won't be available to succeed Schmidt, who will most probably retire in two or three years.

Lieb, a 36-year Daimler veteran who had led the company's U.S. unit since September 2006, is contesting his dismissal.

His lawyer and Daimler's legal team failed to come to a settlement at a labor court conciliation hearing on Wednesday in Stuttgart. Daimler claims Lieb went against internal rules by using company money to install items such as a fitness studio, entertainment system, washing machine and tumble dryer in his home. Lieb denies the allegations and the next hearing is likely to take place in March 2012.

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