DaimlerChrysler's commercial vehicle arm to be global, may produce in Georgia under Dodge brand

In future both Vito/Viano and the future Sprinter will be sold worldwide

Stuttgart. With an increase in sales of 246 percent in the last seven years to 6.42 billion euros in 2002, the Mercedes-Benz delivery-truck sector contributed substantially to the growth of DaimlerChrysler's commercial vehicle unit.

Rolf Bartke, responsible for the sector, sees further growth ahead.

In phase three of his restructuring program, which will continue until 2006, he aims to increase the profit further by going worldwide.

The preconditions are good -- according to internal forecasts, by 2011 the world market for commercial and private van-like trucks will increase to approximately seven million units. This would represent an increase of about 42 percent compared with year-2000 levels of 4.93 million units.

"There is still a lot of potential," says Bartke.

Within the next few years the existing model range will be replaced. The variety of vehicles based on the new Vito and the future Sprinter, which will launch in 2006, will also be increased.

There will be 14 different body shells for the new Vito and its "sister" Viano, which is for private use -- only four different versions exist of the current version.

Manufacturing abroad will also be expanded in future. The Vito will not only be built at the Vitoria plant in Spain, which was modernized for a total of 1.25 billion euros. The Vito, Viano and Sprinter might also be manufactured at a new plant in Savannah, Georgia, USA, under the Dodge brand.

According to Bartke, the decision will be made "within the next few weeks."

The Sprinter and Vito might in future also be produced in China -- as soon as the Chinese government gives the permission.

According to Bartke, it is not clear yet what will happen in South Korea once the license production of the Mercedes-Benz 100 K at SsangYong will finish in 2004. One option would be to replace the model with the Vito -- or to find a solution together with Hyundai and Fuso.

The commercial vehicle sector boss has no great hopes for the unsuccessful Vaneo, saying: "We celebrate every single car that we sell."

The marketing budget is too small for the Vaneo, which makes it difficult to push the sales any further, says Bartke. The Vaneo will be replaced with two models in 2006: a sport-utility vehicle on the platform of the new A class and a more cost efficient microvan for commercial use.

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