DaimlerChrysler's European bus susidiary EvoBus GmbH, increased its shareholding in Karl Koch GmbH to 100% from 49% at the turn of the year, the company said on Thursday.

This transfer of shares was a long-term objective pursued by both partners, and was already contractually agreed in 1998, when EvoBus GmbH acquired the first 49%.

To confirm its new status as a wholly-owned part of the DaimlerChrysler Group, Karl Koch GmbH was reincorporated as "Mercedes-Benz Minibus GmbH" on February 1, 2004.

"By fully integrating Karl Koch GmbH we will benefit even more than in the past from the traditional expertise of this bodybuilding specialist, with whom we have already cooperated on a partner-like basis for more than 30 years. The expansion of our sales channels, which began in 2003 with a view to this full acquisition, provides new opportunities for the coming years", said Wolfgang Diez, chairman of EvoBus GmbH and head of the worldwide DaimlerChrysler buses and coaches business unit.

Mercedes-Benz Minibus GmbH will mainly cater for conversions and bodybuilding in the Sprinter and Vario segments. It has facilities in Mudersbach, Dortmund, Plattling in Germany and Ligny in France.

"By renaming the company we are also sending an external signal that our products are wholly in accordance with the Mercedes-Benz brand in terms of design, quality and service", the company said in a statement.