* Mercedes pickup to share underpinnings with Nissan P300
* Mercedes, Nissan, Renault collaboration expanded
* Trucks to be built in Spain and Argentina (Adds comment from Argentine president)
By Edward Taylor
FRANKFURT, April 7 (Reuters) - Daimler AG on Tuesday said it would expand its cooperation with partner Nissan Motor Co Ltd to develop a mid-sized pickup truck for Mercedes-Benz as the German premium automaker seeks to narrow its sales gap with rival BMW.
The new Mercedes-Benz pickup targets commercial and private clients in Europe, Latin America, Australia and South Africa, and will share some of the underpinnings with an all-new Nissan NP300 truck, Daimler and Nissan said in a joint statement.
“Entering the rapidly growing segment of midsize pickups is an important step in continuing our global growth path,” Daimler Chief Executive Dieter Zetsche said.
“Thanks to our well-established partnership with the Renault-Nissan Alliance, we are able to drastically reduce the time and cost to enter this key segment.”
Late last month Mercedes announced it will build a medium-sized pickup truck for customers outside North America, entering a new vehicle category which has been dominated by lower-priced brands.
Mercedes, Nissan and Renault have shared engines, plants and vehicle underpinnings for small cars since an alliance was struck between the carmakers in 2010. Since then, collaboration has expanded from three common vehicle projects to 13.
The Mercedes-Benz 1-ton pickup truck will be built by Nissan in Cordoba, Argentina, along with the Nissan NP300 and a Renault-branded truck, for Latin America, Daimler said.
“Nissan-Renault is going to invest $600 million in Cordoba to produce a new pickup,” Argentine President Cristina Fernandez said during a public address in Buenos Aires, adding that the project will create 1,000 direct jobs.
The three trucks will also be built in the Nissan plant in Barcelona, Spain, for other markets, excluding North America. Production of the trucks at the two plants will start by the end of the decade, the companies said.
The Barcelona plant will produce about 120,000 vehicles annually for the three partners, while the Cordoba plant will produce nearly 70,000 vehicles a year.
Mercedes-Benz’s U.S. sales arm is studying whether to sell a version of the proposed Mercedes pickup, Steve Cannon, head of the Mercedes-Benz USA said last week at the New York auto show.
“It wouldn’t come until, at the earliest, the ‘18, ‘19 time frame,” he said. “We’ve got time to look at the market and decide.”
Pickup trucks have gained popularity in recent months as gasoline prices eased. Last year, three of the four top-selling cars in the United States were full-sized pickup trucks, the Ford F-150, the Chevrolet Silverado and Ram 1500.
The segment has been moving upmarket, creating an opening for a premium brand, Daimler said. A recent study by Truecar.com found 25 percent of Ford pickup trucks sell for $50,000 or more. (Additional reporting by Eliana Raszewski in Buenos Aires; reporting by Edward Taylor and Joseph White; editing by Kirsti Knolle, David Evans and Andrew Hay)