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China's Great Wall Motor plans Fiat Chrysler purchase
By Julien GIRAULT
Beijing (AFP) Aug 21, 2017


Great Wall Motor: Chinese specialist in urban SUVs
Beijing (AFP) Aug 21, 2017 - Great Wall Motor Company, China's seventh-largest carmaker, specialises in urban SUVs and wants to move upmarket -- which could explain its apparent interest in the Jeep brand.

Great Wall confirmed on Monday its interest in buying all or part of the Italian-American group Fiat Chrysler (FCA).

According to the US publication Automotive News, the Chinese firm is specifically eyeing the Jeep brand.

Great Wall, founded in 1984 and based in Hebei province close to Beijing, has built a reputation in urban sport utility vehicles and these now account for 80 percent of its production.

In a highly competitive Chinese automotive market, Great Wall sold 1.07 million vehicles last year, up 26 percent from the previous year.

Urban SUVs are highly popular among Chinese drivers who want to feel safe in cities where road accidents are commonplace. Sales of SUVs of all brands jumped by 45 per cent last year to 9.05 million units, according to the China Association of Automobile Manufacturers.

It is in this market that 100 percent Chinese-owned brands like Great Wall are gaining momentum: they accounted for about 60 percent of sales of SUVs in the country in 2016.

But the group faces rising competition in the sector, which may cut into its profit margins. According to analyst estimates compiled by Bloomberg, Great Wall will likely report a plunge of almost 80 percent in net income in the second quarter of 2017.

Under these conditions, the manufacturer is openly seeking to upgrade to more expensive and more profitable vehicles.

This ambition could favour the acquisition of Jeep, a premium brand long renowned for its quality in China.

China's Great Wall Motor signalled on Monday its intention to make an ambitious acquisition deal with Italian-American car maker Fiat Chrysler Automobiles following a report that it wants to buy the Jeep brand.

An agreement would be a major coup for the Chinese auto industry, though it may cause political waves in the United States, where President Donald Trump has railed against his country's trade imbalance with the Asian giant.

Great Wall Motor ranks only as the seventh biggest Chinese auto company in terms of sales -- 1.07 million in China last year -- but any purchase of FCA would take the firm to another level.

"There is an intention to make the purchase," a Great Wall Motor spokeswoman told AFP, though she declined to say if the possible deal would be for the entire auto giant or just one of its brands.

The US car industry publication Automotive News reported earlier that Great Wall Motor president Wang Fengying had said in an email that her company intended to buy FCA's Jeep brand.

FCA said in a statement that it "has not been approached by Great Wall (Motor) in connection with the Jeep brand or any other matter relating to its business." Great Wall's spokeswoman did not confirm whether the companies had made any contact yet but she confirmed the intention to make an offer.

Bill Russo, managing director of Gao Feng Advisory Group, said he believes Great Wall Motor is interested in just buying Jeep rather than buying all of FCA and inheriting its sizeable liabilities.

- 'Crown jewel' -

"Jeep is the crown jewel of Fiat Chrysler in terms of brand and equity," Russo, a former Chrysler executive, told AFP.

Great Wall is known for its sport-utility vehicles, which are popular in China, so a deal would be "quite complementary" for the company, the analyst said.

With sales of its models ebbing in the United States, a Chinese acquisition could offer a lifeline to Fiat Chrysler, in particular for its Chrysler, Dodge and Fiat brands.

FCA's shares have soared on the Milan stock exchanges on reports of a potential deal.

FCA CEO Sergio Marchionne spun off Ferrari in 2015 and could do likewise with Alfa Romeo and Maserati, so selling any of its other brands to a Chinese investor could fit in with that corporate strategy.

"They could get a pretty good price for" Jeep, Russo said.

Great Wall Motor would not be the first Chinese auto company to make a major acquisition abroad.

Sweden's Volvo was acquired by China's Geely in 2010 and has enjoyed strong sales growth since, with the Chinese market accounting for 20 percent.

"We are definitely going to take our intention to buy (FCA) seriously," Great Wall Motor's spokeswoman said.

"As for the plans for later stages, doing what on which day, this is an issue for the strategy of the top management level," she said.

Great Wall's "interest in purchasing FCA highly fits our professional development path and strategy of globalisation", the spokeswoman said.

CAR TECH
Fiat Chrysler an enticing takeover target for China
Detroit (AFP) Aug 18, 2017
Italian-American car maker Fiat Chrysler Automobiles would be an alluring takeover target for a Chinese company, instantly putting it at the top rung of the US auto industry, analysts say. In July, a well-known but unnamed Chinese automaker made at least one offer to buy Fiat Chrysler at a price supposedly above its current market value, the industry news site Automotive News reported earlie ... read more

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