FRANKFURT Daimler's trucks chief Wolfgang Bernhard, once seen as a candidate to succeed Chief Executive Dieter Zetsche, has stepped down from the management board, a year before his contract was due to run out, the carmaker said on Friday.
Bernhard's restructuring efforts have angered powerful labour leaders.
Daimler said Bernhard was leaving at his own request for personal reasons and is released from his duties with immediate effect. Its statement did not say what he would do next.
Daimler said its 20-member supervisory board met to discuss extending Bernhard's contract beyond February 2018, but he then asked to leave the carmaker instead.
Directors at Daimler and Volkswagen held separate closed-door meetings.
Bernhard began working at Daimler in 1994 and moved through the ranks to become head of Mercedes-Benz Vans, board member for production for Mercedes-Benz Cars and eventually head of trucks.
But last year Daimler extended the contract of Chief Executive Dieter Zetsche by three years, a move which effectively ruled out 56-year-old Bernhard as a potential successor.
A year ago, Daimler also promoted Ola Kaellenius, a 47-year-old Swede, to head up research and development, a move that company insiders say made him a natural heir to Zetsche.
Daimler on Friday extended Kaellenius' contract until Dec. 31, 2022.
Daimler said on Friday that Zetsche would head up the trucks business until a successor to Bernhard was appointed.
In a separate meeting at Volkswagen, members of the board of directors are reviewing progress made by Herbert Diess and his turnaround plans for the VW brand, which he oversees, sources told Reuters.
Volkswagen declined to comment.
Diess has repeatedly clashed with Volkswagen's powerful labour chief Bernd Osterloh, who has accused him of undermining a jointly agreed turnaround plan.
Both Bernhard and Diess have been seen as potential candidates to become chief executives of their respective companies.
"Neither of them have been given the time to harvest the fruits of restructuring. To a large extent that has to do with co-determination," said Evercore ISI analyst Arndt Ellinghorst, referring to the policy at large German companies of appointing labour representatives to the board of directors, giving them a say in strategy.
(Reporting by Ilona Wissenbach Andreas Cremer, Jan Schwartz and Edward Taylor; Editing by Mark Potter/Ruth Pitchford)