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Washington — German automaker Daimler AG said Tuesday it had sold its 4 percent stake in Tesla Motors but will continue joint projects with the California electric vehicle company.

Daimler said it will generate $780 million in cash from the sale. The parent company of Mercedes-Benz initially acquired a 9.1 percent stake in Tesla in 2009, but since then some shares had been transferred and the stake had been diluted by Tesla capital raising. The companies have been partners for more than five years.

Daimler said development work for the Mercedes-Benz B-Class Electric Drive is completed, the partnership with Tesla remains in place. Daimler will use the proceeds “to strengthen Daimler's operational business.”

Daimler used Tesla’s lithium-ion battery packs and charging electronics into the first 1,000 units of Daimler’s electric Smart car. As part of that investment, Prof. Herbert Kohler, vice president for E-Drive and Future Mobility at Daimler, joined Tesla’s board.

"We pursue our strategy for emission-free driving consequently. Electric vehicles are one component of this roadmap. In Tesla we do have a bold partner. Together we launched the B-class Electric Drive successfully in the United States this summer. In November, the B-Class Electric Drive will be launched in Europe as well. We are convinced that this powerful electric vehicle for everyday use will appeal to a lot of customers," said Dieter Zetsche, chairman of Daimler’s board and head of Mercedes-Benz Cars.

He noted the batteries for the first generation of the Smart for two-seater electric drive had been from Tesla. The two-seater with electric drive is one of the best-selling electric cars in Germany. "Our partnership with Tesla is very successful and will be continued," Zetsche said.

Bodo Uebber, member of the Board of Management of Daimler AG for Finance & Controlling and Financial Services, said the company no longer needed a stake in Tesla: "We are extremely satisfied with the development of our investment in Tesla, but it is not necessary for our partnership and cooperation. For this reason, we have decided to divest of our shares. This will also allow Tesla to broaden its investor base."

"We have supported Tesla as a startup company for many years and have learned a lot from Tesla. At the same time, Tesla was able to profit from our automotive expertise. The cooperation with Tesla is one component of our activities in the field of electric mobility. It optimally complements our involvement in Deutsche ACCUmotive," explained Prof. Dr. Thomas Weber, member of the Board of Management of Daimler AG for Group Research & Mercedes-Benz Cars Development.

In 2014, Mercedes-Benz sold more automobiles with hybrid drive than all other German manufacturers combined. The focus will continue to be on plug-in hybrids in the coming years. By the year 2017, Mercedes-Benz Cars will launch ten new plug-in hybrid models in all market segments.

Daimler initially acquired a 9.1 percent interest in Tesla in May 2009. Of that, 40 percent of that investment was transferred to Aabar Investments PJSC in the context of a joint strategic project in July 2009. As a result of capital increases at Tesla, Daimler's stake in the company decreased to around 4 percent.

DShepardson@detroitnews.com

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