Marchionne: Fiat Needs an Asia Partner
Fiat SpA (F) is scouring Asia for a possible partner after the planned alliance between General Motors Co. and PSA Peugeot Citroen shrank the pool of European candidates.
Chief Executive Officer Sergio Marchionne, who says he’s searching for a third partner after merging with Chrysler Group LLC to help reduce development costs and boost sales in fast- growing countries, said teaming with either Suzuki Motor Corp. (7269) or Mazda Motor Corp. (7261) makes sense. Fiat and Chrysler only sell half the cars Marchionne said is needed for long-term survival.
“Those two companies would be complementary to Fiat’s activities,” Marchionne said at the Geneva International Motor Show. “We talk continuously with Suzuki; we talk with Mazda; we talk with everyone.”
Marchionne’s options in Europe are narrowing following the GM-Peugeot (UG) deal, with most of the region’s carmakers already in alliances and nine of Europe’s auto and truck brands part of Volkswagen AG (VOW3). An Asian alliance would also help in Fiat’s weakest region, which accounts for 3 percent of revenue. Asia accounts for 44 percent of global deliveries, according to Bloomberg Industries.
While alliances don’t always provide the anticipated savings, Marchionne said in January that carmakers need to consolidate to compete with VW, which had a 23.3 percent market share in Europe last year. He told reporters last week that there aren’t “many partners left” in the region.
Fiat shares have slumped 31 percent over the past 12 months, the second-biggest decline on the Stoxx 600 Automobiles & Parts index after Peugeot. Both carmakers have junk credit ratings at Moody’s Investors Service.
Adding a new alliance or joint venture is “not a priority” for Ford Motor Co. (F), Stephen Odell, the automaker’s Europe chief, said in a March 5 interview. Hyundai Motor Co. (005380) also has no plans to set up a strategic partnership in Europe, Allan Rushforth, the South Korean carmaker’s chief for the region, said yesterday.
“There aren’t many more opportunities for alliances following recent developments,” Daimler AG (DAI) CEO Dieter Zetsche said in Geneva. “I don’t think we will see many other alliances; there is only really one player who might. There aren’t so many they could do it with.”
That has left Marchionne, who said he’s still open to a European deal as well, to pursue options in Asia. To create the necessary car-making efficiencies, automotive groups need to build 8 million to 10 million vehicles a year, Marchionne has said. Currently only GM, VW and Toyota Motor Corp. (7203) are producing at or near that level.
Mazda, Japan’s most export-reliant carmaker, said March 5 it will raise as much as 151.2 billion yen ($1.9 billion) in a record share sale to replenish capital as it braces for its biggest annual loss in 11 years. Mazda President Takashi Yamanouchi said last month that the company was “aggressively” looking for a partner.
“Mazda has a capital alliance with Ford and technical alliances with seven different companies worldwide, and for now, we have no plans to have another capital alliance,” Kozue Nitta, a Mazda spokeswoman, said yesterday. “However, to supplement our products, technology and/or business in various regions, we want to aggressively encourage more partnerships.”
Suzuki, whose Maruti Suzuki India Ltd. makes almost half of the cars sold in fast-growing India, began arbitration procedures in November aimed at ending its two-year-old partnership with VW. Each company has accused the other of breaching their cooperation agreement, which was meant to supply Suzuki with technology and provide VW with access to the Indian car market. Fiat already supplies engines to Suzuki.
Hideki Taguchi, a Suzuki spokesman, declined to comment on a potential tie-up with Fiat.
“Asia’s more likely to be where we’ll see partnerships because of the growth and more fragmented nature of the Chinese market,” said Itay Michaeli, an analyst for Citigroup Inc. in New York. “There are some Asian manufacturers that could use some regional support from a global automaker.”
Fiat-Chrysler earned 3 percent of revenue in Asia-Pacific last year, compared with 37 percent in Europe and 45 percent in North America. Asia accounted for 5 percent of operating profit. Fiat controls Chrysler with a 58.5 percent stake.
Fiat, which froze new European investments after losing 500 million euros last year in the region with its volume car business, doesn’t expect a recovery until at least 2014. The Italian carmaker relied on Chrysler for all of its net income in 2011 as U.S. sales climbed 36 percent, the CEO said last month.
“Marchionne has a great footprint now in the U.S.,” said Gary Silberg, a Chicago-based KPMG automotive researcher. “He’s got to figure out his problems in Europe with Fiat. Why would he want to double down there? So Asia seems to make a lot of sense.”
GM (GM) and Peugeot announced last week a broad alliance that will include joint purchasing and vehicle development in an effort to revitalize their European operations. GM will buy 7 percent of the French carmaker, which will sell new shares in a 1 billion-euro rights offering.
Marchionne held talks with Peugeot regarding a possible combination in 2009. The discussions ended because the Peugeot family didn’t want to lose control over the carmaker, a person familiar with the matter said last month. GM in 2005 paid $2 billion to Fiat to exit a failed five-year partnership. Four years later, Marchionne held unsuccessful talks with the Detroit-based company to buy its Opel unit in Germany.
“For something as large as what the industry needs to do to fix all of Europe, I just wonder if these alliances are enough,” said David Whiston, an analyst with Morningstar Inc. in Chicago. “It certainly may be a great starting point.”
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