* Seeks strategic option to build light commercial vehicles with MAN
* MAN may replace Daimler as partner to build successor to Crafter van
* Agreement with Daimler on Crafter van ends 2016
* Sees further growth in van sales in 2012 (Releads on cooperation with MAN, adds background)
By Andreas Cremer
HANOVER, Germany, March 14 (Reuters) - Volkswagen , Europe’s biggest carmaker, is forging closer ties between its van division and MAN to give it the strategic option to build light commercial vehicles with the German heavy-truck manufacturer.
An agreement between VW and Daimler to build the so-called Crafter van at a Daimler plant in the western German city of Duesseldorf will expire in 2016.
VW may decide not to extend that pact and develop the Crafter’s successor model with MAN, Wolfgang Schreiber, head of VW’s van division told reporters on Wednesday.
“There is a preference and a discussion at the VW group to build an own vehicle with MAN,” said Schreiber, adding a decision will be taken in the next months.
Daimler had offered to extend the agreement with VW as well as to tie VW into its alliance with French car maker Renault . The Sprinter van of Mercedes and VW’s Crafter share the same technology platform.
VW, which took a majority stake in MAN last November, holds 56 percent of the company’s voting rights and aims to integrate the truckmaker with its Swedish truck brand Scania.
VW estimates that a combination may yield savings of at least 200 million euros ($262.18 million) per year, especially in procurement, production and research and development.
MAN Chief Executive Officer Georg Pachta-Reyhofen said at the company’s annual press conference on Feb. 14 that MAN may expand into commercial vehicles weighing between 3.5 and 7 tons to plug a gap in its portfolio.
Vehicle sales at VW’s van division rose about 9 percent in the first two months compared with the same period in 2011, sales chief Harald Schomburg said, predicting further expansion in 2012. Sales in 2011 rose 21 percent to 529,000 vehicles, powered by demand from North America, South America and Asia.
“It’s our goal to grow strongly again this year,” Schomburg said. ($1 = 0.7628 euros) (Editing by David Cowell)