( AP ) - DaimlerChrysler AG shareholders voted overwhelmingly Thursday to change their company's name to Daimler AG to reflect the sale of its U.S. Chrysler division - marking what CEO Dieter Zetsche portrayed as a new start after a tumultuous nine years together.The vote was 98.8 percent in favor at a special shareholders meeting in Berlin.
The change is effective immediately, though it will take until early next year to change signs, stationery and 170,000 e-mail addresses.
Zetsche told 4,700 shareholders at the ICC conference center in Berlin that the company could not go back to its pre-Chrysler name Daimler-Benz because it had changed too much by adding new divisions and models.
"The group name Daimler clearly indicates that we are writing a new chapter in our history, while at the same time continuing our tradition as the inventor of the automobile," Zetsche told 4,700 shareholders gathered in Berlin to vote on the name change, a formality expected to pass easily.
The Stuttgart-based company recently sold 80.1 percent of Chrysler to private equity firm Cerberus Capital Management.
Daimler-Benz and U.S. Chrysler Corp. linked up in a 1998 deal described as a "marriage made in heaven" by then-CEO Juergen Schrempp, but up-and-down earnings and repeated cost-cutting had long soured many investors on the effort to create a global auto giant.
Zetsche said the company would now be free to focus on "what we do best:" luxury cars; commercial vehicles such as trucks, buses and vans; and financial services.
"Our earnings will now be more sustainable, as we will no longer be so strongly dependent on the volatile North American volume market," Zetsche said.
"We are not striving to become the world's largest automotive company. Instead, our aim is to be one of the most admired and respected on a permanent basis."
The name change to Daimler AG will define the company as a group in its dealings with government and financial markets, the company said, creating clear separation of group identity from its product brands such as Mercedes.
The change overcame a plea by Heidemarie Hirsch, a great-grandniece of automotive pioneer Karl Benz, who argued for restoring her ancestor's name by choosing Daimler-Benz or simply Benz AG.
"Give Karl Benz his due place in the front row," Hirsch said. "Give the company back its personality, its character, its face."
Zetsche stressed that the company was not forgetting Benz, whose name would remain in the company's flagship luxury brand, Mercedes-Benz.
Karl Benz (1844-1929) built an three-wheeled internal combustion automobile in Mannheim in 1885 and patented it in 1886. Working separately, Gottlieb Daimler (1834-1900) and partner Wilhelm Maybach built a compact engine and put in a motorcycle in 1885 and in a coach in 1886.
The companies founded by Benz and Daimler merged in 1926 to former Daimler-Benz AG.
DaimlerChrysler had to buy rights to the Daimler name from Ford Motor Co. for $20 million because Gottlieb Daimler had sold the rights to his name in Great Britain. Ford's Jaguar luxury brand used the Daimler name on some models.
The German company changed its share symbol on the Frankfurt and New York exchanges in August from DCX to DAI, but the process of changing the company's name will not be completed before spring 2008.