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Daimler wants to expand cooperation with electric-car maker Tesla

By Paul Lienert

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Daimler AG , the German parent of Mercedes-Benz, would like to expand its cooperation with Tesla Motors Inc , the U.S. electric-car maker, a top Daimler executive said on Thursday.

"I told my guys, go back to Tesla and look for other opportunities" to work together, Bodo Uebber, Daimler's chief financial officer, said at a press briefing. "We want to look for more cooperation."

Tesla is supplying electric motors and batteries to Daimler for its Smart Fortwo EV and the new Mercedes-Benz B-Class EV that goes on sale next year in the United States and Europe.

"We could use more" from Tesla, Uebber said, without providing specifics. Daimler holds a 4.3 percent stake in Tesla, which also provides EV components to Toyota Motor Corp <7203.T>.

Uebber said Daimler, which just launched its new CLA compact sedan and is preparing to add a second model, the GLA compact crossover, in early 2014, is already reviewing plans for its next generation of small vehicles, due around 2018.

Daimler is discussing "different strategies" for building the next-generation compacts in Mexico with partner Renault-Nissan <7201.T>, "but no decision has been made," Uebber said.

He said the CLA, the GLA and at least one more derivative in 2015 from the company's MFA modular platform were crucial to Daimler's growth, especially in the United States and China.

"We are a late comer" to the small premium segment, he said, but "we need compact cars to get a broader, younger customer base."

Daimler also is rolling out more derivatives of its recently redesigned S-Class flagship, he said, including a large coupe and an exclusive "long-long-wheelbase" sedan that will be sold in the United States and China as well as Europe.

The latter model likely will be aimed at expensive competitors from BMW AG's Rolls-Royce and Volkswagen's Bentley brands, filling a void left by the demise of Daimler's unsuccessful Maybach brand.

Uebber said Daimler's U.S. plant in Alabama will begin building the redesigned C-Class sedan next year, as well as a new SUV derivative in 2015.

The decision on whether to establish a labor union at the Tuscaloosa plant, long a target of United Auto Workers organizing efforts, "lies with our workers," Uebber said.

But "we are happy with the current status" at the plant, he added, "and the people working there are happy with the environment."

(Reporting by Paul Lienert in New York; Editing by Jeffrey Benkoe)

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