* Wolfgang Bernhard to return to Daimler
* Starts new job as vans business head in April
(Adds CEO quote, background and market reaction)
STUTTGART, Germany, Feb 10 Wolfgang Bernhard, who left DaimlerChrysler in 2004 just as he was about to become head of its Mercedes premium car division, will return to Daimler (DAIGn.DE) as head of its vans business.
Bernhard -- an ally of Daimler CEO Dieter Zetsche, with whom he helped turn around U.S. carmaker Chrysler when it was still part of the group -- takes up his post from April 2009, the company said after a source told Reuters about the impending change.
"I am pleased that Wolfgang Bernhard is back on board at Daimler. I value his knowledge and experience from the mutual time we spent in the USA and am happy that we can continue our excellent professional relationship," Zetsche said.
The 48-year-old executive was a shining light in the German car industry, most recently as head of the Volkswagen (VOWG.DE) brand until early 2007. He succeeded in restructuring VW's loss-making German operations and played a key role in the success of the Tiguan compact sport utility van.
Instead of the 100,000-odd employees he would have been responsible for as head of Mercedes or Volkswagen, Bernhard will have to get used to much smaller dimensions, for now at least.
He will head up a division that produces 288,000 light commercial vehices a year at nine sites and employs 16,000.
Shares in Daimler recovered briefly on the news only to slump once more and close down 6.8 percent at 24 euros. The DJ Stoxx European car sector index .SXAP fell 3.3 percent. (Reporting by Hendrik Sackmann, Writing by Christiaan Hetzner)