FRANKFURT (Reuters) - German carmaker Mercedes-Benz plans to launch a mid-sized pickup truck, expanding its premium brand into a lower-priced bracket in a bid to narrow the sales gap with arch rival BMW (BMWG.DE).
Pickup trucks have gained popularity in recent months as gasoline prices eased, with sales of such models accounting for 90 percent of global pretax margins at General Motors (GM.N) and Ford (F.N), according to analysts.
Mercedes, owned by Daimler (DAIGn.DE), said on Friday it would launch a mid-sized pickup truck in the next five years, adding customers were increasingly demanding trucks that have features traditionally found in passenger cars.
"A similar example was the successful introduction of the M-Class around 20 years ago. As the first sport utility vehicle (SUV) from a premium manufacturer, the M-Class completely redefined the segment," Mercedes said in a statement.
The Mercedes pickup will initially target customers in Latin America, South Africa, Australia and Europe, and no decision has been made about whether to launch the vehicle in the United States, a spokeswoman for Daimler said.
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 with Ford's F-150 model fetching prices of up to $50,000.
Daimler said the new pickup truck would be built by its Vans division. Earlier this month, Mercedes said it would invest $500 million to build a new assembly plant in South Carolina to build large commercial vans.
Germany's top car companies have been vying for the global title of best-selling premium automaker, expanding into new vehicle categories as a way to expand sales.
Deliveries of BMW's core brand reached a record 1.81 million last year. By comparison, Audi sold 1.74 million cars and Mercedes-Benz sold 1.65 million of its own-branded passenger cars.
(Reporting by Edward Taylor; Editing by Mark Potter)