Daimler and Nissan to invest $1.36 bln to develop, build small cars

FRANKFURT, June 27 Fri Jun 27, 2014 9:32am EDT

FRANKFURT, June 27 (Reuters) - Daimler AG and Renault Nissan will invest 1 billion euros ($1.36 billion) to develop small cars and build a factory in Mexico, the companies said on Friday, in a step that deepens cooperation between the premium Mercedes-Benz and Infiniti brands.

The companies, which will share costs of the joint venture, said they will build a plant with a production capacity of 300,000 vehicles in Aguascalientes, Mexico, where Nissan already has a factory.

Mercedes-Benz and Infiniti will collaborate on advanced research, design and production of premium compact vehicles, the companies said. Those vehicles will be sold globally by both brands.

In March, sources said that Mercedes and Infiniti plan to pool development of compact cars to cut costs, expand the German carmaker's North American production footprint and broaden the Infiniti lineup.

The 50:50 joint venture allows Nissan to build cars on underpinnings that are already used by Mercedes-Benz. In return, Daimler gets a first North American production site for small vehicles, to supplement its U.S. assembly plant in Vance, Alabama. The German carmaker has struggled in the past with insufficient demand for small cars.

Building cars in Mexico allows Mercedes and Japan-based Infiniti to sell cars in the United States while avoiding some of the currency and tariff costs that crimp profits on vehicles imported from overseas. Mexico also offers lower labor rates than Germany, Japan and the United States.

Carlos Ghosn, chief executive of Renault-Nissan, said: "Joint development of compact premium vehicles and joint production in Aguascalientes together represent one of the largest projects between the Renault-Nissan Alliance and Daimler."

Daimler Chief Executive Dieter Zetsche said, "In Aguascalientes, we will take our successful partnership to the next level by combining the skills of our two companies, Daimler and Nissan, in one production plant."

The companies did not specify which vehicles would be built in Mexico. In September last year, sources said the companies were considering the site for joint production of the Infiniti Q30 and Mercedes-Benz GLA.

The new factory will start making cars for Nissan's premium brand Infiniti in 2017, followed by the manufacturing of Mercedes-Benz cars in 2018, the companies said in a joint press release.

The companies will add almost 5,700 jobs by the time the plant reaches full capacity, expected in 2021.

Nissan, Mercedes and alliance partner Renault have shared engines, plants and vehicle underpinnings for small cars since Zetsche and Ghosn forged an alliance in 2010 cemented by token reciprocal shareholdings. (Reporting by Edward Taylor; Additional reporting by Ilona Wissenbach; Editing by Steve Orlofsky)

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