Disgruntled investors have blasted DaimlerChrysler chief executive Juergen Schrempp and top managers for what they branded poor performance and shoddy leadership at the world's fifth- biggest carmaker.

At the group's annual meeting, shareholders lined up to complain about a series of problems capped last week by the automaker's biggest car recall and news of hefty charges to restructure its loss-making Smart minicar brand (right).

Investors claimed that their patience with Mr Schrempp was exhausted, as the group's flagship Mercedes brand was put at risk by letting quality lag badly. "The problems at Mercedes and Smart suggest serious management mistakes," said Thomas Maier at Union Investment, Germany's third-biggest asset manager and administrator of DaimlerChrysler shares worth more than £340 million.

In his opening address, Mr Schrempp insisted DaimlerChrysler had made clear progress in 2004 despite difficult conditions, and had hit its 2004 operating profit target - proposing a dividend amongst the most generous of German blue-chip companies.

"Of course, we are not satisfied with the way the stock price has developed," he said, but stressed he was committed to restoring solid profitability while rescuing Mercedes's image.

At the meeting, the company said sales fell 11.6 per cent in February and a cumulative nine per cent in the first two months. The carmaker blamed weak markets, problems with faulty diesel pumps and customer restraint ahead of model changeovers for the M-class offroader and S-class.

During March, sales at Mercedes Car Group rose 1.8 per cent to 117,500 units. Sales of Mercedes-Benz brand cars fell 2.5 per cent, while deliveries of Smart vehicles gained 49.7 per cent.

DaimlerChrysler stock has almost halved in value and lagged the DJ Stoxx European car sector index by more than onethird since Daimler-Benz's 1998 union with Chrysler, which Mr Schrempp trumpeted as creating the first truly global carmaker.