Joachim Schmidt, head of sales and marketing for DaimlerChrysler's Mercedes Car Group, is languishing in the departure lounge, according to a company insider.

Schmidt's exit may or may not be connected with falling sales at the German-American group's flagship marque. German magazine Der Speigel reports that an announcement is imminent, although neither Schmidt nor the company's press office is prepared to comment on the report.

Schmidt is the most senior management casualty since new chief executive Eckhard Cordes assumed the Mercedes hotseat in October.

The luxury carmaker, once DaimlerChrysler's most faithful cash cow, recently reported fourth-quarter operating profits down 97% to €20 million ($26.7m; £13.96m) [WAMN: 14-Feb-05].

The dive was triggered by a number of factors including Europe's flavour of the season - the unofficial devaluation of the US dollar against the euro and UK pound. Other elements were the marque's growing quality problems and further losses at Smart, the division's small-car unit.

None of which were within the control of the much decimated Mercedes' sales and marketing department, whose senior honchos have recently been falling like flies after reported "irregularities" within the organization.

These are currently under investigation both within the company and by the Stuttgart state prosecutor's office. It is not known if Schmidt is involved in the probes.

Data sourced from Wall Street Journal Online; additional content by WARC staff