Daimler AG forced the U.S. head of Mercedes-Benz to step down on Monday, in a surprising move that came despite recent U.S. sales growth at the luxury brand.
Daimler spokesman Han Tjan said Ernst Lieb was relieved of his duties as president and CEO of Mercedes-Benz USA, effective immediately.
Tjan would not give a reason for Lieb's ouster. The brand's daily U.S. business operations will be handled by Herbert Werner, its chief financial officer and vice president of finance, controlling and IT, Tjan said.
The German-born Lieb spent a total of 36 years at Daimler, including five in the top spot at Montvale, N.J.-based Mercedes-Benz USA. Daimler said Lieb remains with the company in an unspecified role.
Lieb first joined Daimler in 1975 as a spare parts specialist and went on to lead Mercedes-Benz Canada in 1995. He was named as the head of DaimlerChrysler's Australian and Pacific operations in 2003, before becoming Mercedes' U.S. president and CEO in 2006.
As the head of the brand's U.S. operations, he oversaw the sales, marketing and service of Mercedes and Maybach vehicles, parts and accessories in the U.S. market.
Lieb's ouster is surprising, considering the sales growth that Mercedes has recently been able to post in the U.S., despite tough economic conditions.
The brand's sales are up 10.4 percent through September. Mercedes moved from the No. 3 U.S. luxury brand in 2008 to No. 2 in 2009 and 2010, and it took the top spot for the first three quarters of this year, unseating Toyota's Lexus brand, according to Autodata Corp.
Joe Phillippi, president of AutoTrends Consulting in Short Hills, N.J., said Mercedes U.S. sales are gaining ground, slicing up the luxury segment with more niche products. So Lieb's ouster makes no sense based on sales figures or marketing performance, Phillippi said.
"There's no rhyme or reason from a business perspective," he said.
AP Auto Writer Tom Krisher contributed to this report.