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Daimler will shift some Sprinter production to N.A. from Germany

Daimler will avoid high import tariffs by building the Sprinter, shown, in North America.

FRANKFURT - Daimler today said it will build the next-generation Mercedes Sprinter van in North America, shifting some production from Germany to improve competitiveness.

Daimler currently assembles Sprinters in Ladson, South Carolina, from kits shipped from Germany. The company did not say where future North American production will be.

"We can cover the growing demand for large vans in the North American market economically only if we produce the vehicles locally in the NAFTA region," Volker Mornhinweg, head of the Mercedes' vans division, said in a statement.

Mornhinweg said Daimler will decide on the exact location for the future production of the Sprinter in the NAFTA region during the coming months. The NAFTA region includes Mexico, the United States and Canada.

Because of the high import tariffs, Daimler has been producing Sprinters for the U.S. market in German plants at Duesseldorf and Ludwigsfelde. The vans are partially dismantled in a time-consuming process and reassembled  in Ladson for the Mercedes and Freightliner brands.

Daimler says this process results in a significant competitive disadvantage, since it leads to long delivery times and makes the vehicle more expensive for U.S. customers.

The U.S. is now the Sprinter's second-largest sales market after Germany, according to Daimler, with about 23,000 Sprinter vans delivered to U.S. customers last year.

The company will continue to build Sprinters in the Duesseldorf and Ludwigsfelde factories and will invest a combined amount 450 million euros to produce the next Sprinter in the two plants. Part of the investment will be used to modernize the body shop, paint shop, and assembly line at Duesseldorf .

Currently about 150,000 large vans are produced annually in Duesseldorf, which is Daimler's biggest van production plant with about 6,500 employees. Ludwigsfelde has 2,000 employees and builds about 50,000 large vans annually.

Daimler is reorganizing its light commercial vehicle business following the end of a partnership with Volkswagen. Daimler builds the Volkswagen brand version of the Sprinter, called the VW Crafter, but this project will end come 2016. VW plans to start manufacturing the Crafter in a new plant in Wrzesnia, Poland.

You can reach Christiaan Hetzner at christiaan.hetzner@gmail.com

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