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Li, who chairs auto giant Geely Automobile Holdings Ltd (吉利汽車), bought a 9.69 percent stake in the carmaker, worth about 7.2 billion euros (US$8.85 billion), according to the filing.

Daimler confirmed the holding in a regulatory filing, shortly after Bloomberg News first reported that Geely has been building up a position of just under 10 per cent through purchases in the stock market in recent weeks.

Geely had previously acquired a 49.9 percent controlling stake in Malaysian automaker Proton past year.

The investment furthers Hangzhou-based Geely's foray into the European premium automotive market and ends months of speculation about a tie-up. With the upcoming $9 billion deal, Geely would surpass Daimler's current top shareholder Kuwait Investment Authority's 6.8 percent stake. Late past year, Geely had asked Daimler to issue additional shares so it could buy them, but that request was rebuffed. With the move, Geely now has 9.69 per cent of stake in Daimler, which also happens to be the parent company to Mercedes-Benz.

Late previous year, Geely acquired a stake in the Volvo Trucks group, a separate entity, becoming its largest investor in a deal that has not yet closed. "My investment in Daimler reflects this vision", Mr Li said.

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Daimler overtook homegrown rival BMW to become the world's largest luxury auto maker by unit sales in 2016, helped by a broad refresh of its model range and powerful sales growth in China.

Geely Holding has increased its expansion drive.

It is to become a holding company combining three divisions: financial services, cars and small commercial vehicles and trucks and buses. In its statement, Geely said Li has a "long-term commitment" to the Daimler stake, and that neither Geely Group nor any other company in the Zheijang Geely Holding Group intend to acquire additional shares for now. Instead, Li is hoping the stake will allow his company access to Daimler's technology as a way to give it the upperhand in a forthcoming electric and autonomous vehicle war.

In 2010, it purchased Sweden's Volvo Cars.

Daimler sold almost 3.3 million units, and had 164 billion euros in revenue previous year.

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