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“Buying a Sick Horse and Turning It Into a Dead Horse”
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Correction: I misidentified the industry website that posted the “Breaking News–Chinese May Buy GM and Chrysler” story. It’s “The Truth About Cars”, not “All About Cars”. My bad. CH

That’s the basic Chinese take on the idea of a Chinese automaker taking over GM.

The tubes of the Internet have been abuzz concerning a report on the auto industry website headlined “Breaking News—Chinese May Buy GM and Chrysler”.

I took interest in this report because it contradicted my take on Chinese interest in GM—that it was too big and problematic a meal for China to swallow.

I think I’m still on the correct side of this argument. The Chinese appear to have no plans to acquire GM. And perhaps Allaboutcars was getting vigorously massaged by Deloitte-Touche, which has a vested interest in all things M&A, China-wise.

The source for the Allaboutcars post is an article in the 21st Century Business Herald which, as AAC points out, is a respected Chinese language economic newspaper.

And 21st Century Business Herald did run a report quoting an official in the Chinese Ministry of Machinery and Information Technology stating that GM’s troubles might inspire the Chinese automakers to try to acquire some of its assets.


Not the company.

And the Chinese version of the article title is上汽与东风有意接盘并购通用汽车等巨头资产 “SAIC [Shanghai Automotive Industry Corporation] and Aeolus are interested in taking over major assets of GM and others”

A truncated form of the article—highlighting the statement that China might purchase some GM assets–was posted on China’s governmental automotive industry website, Autoinfo, which is where AAC might have picked it up through some industry newsletter.

The full text of the article, China’s respect for intellectual property being what it is, has already been posted on about a thousand bulletin boards. It has a different thrust and makes clear that the Chinese government a) sees that China’s machinery industry is headed for restructuring and tough times b) efficient and well-capitalized enterprises might strengthen themselves by acquiring selected assets of GM and c) making a bid to take over GM is virtually inconceivable.

China has swooped in before to purchase valuable assets from beleaguered U.S. auto and steelmakers for decades–entire steel mills, engine plants, etc.. So I don’t see much new happening.

If China decides to make a big move on GM operations, it will start by buying a bigger share or all of the GM joint ventures in China, not trying to take over the whole company.

I suspect that Deloitte-Touche—which is quoted in the article—is interested in goosing its China-related M&A business and may be spreading loose talk of a Chinese bid for GM in order to inspire some rain-making action.

AAC’s man in China, Bertel Schmitt, did run a follow-up post admitting that nobody was confirming the story as he reported it—of a purchase of the company–so perhaps some walkback is in the offing.

Anything can happen. But I don’t think SAIC is going to buy GM. And the article that’s at the bottom of the fuss doesn’t really support it.

I’ve translated some choice excerpts from the article below.

A few points to consider:

1) The article reports that GM wants to sell some assets to Toyota, but Toyota is hesitating. In fact, the lede of the Business Herald article is that Toyota is the most likely beneficiary of GM woes. I haven’t seen anything about this in the U.S. press, however.

2) It’s acknowledged that GM is doing pretty well in China and outside the U.S. And the car business is a world business. It’s a perspective that an obsession with GM’s troubled North America operations obscures.

3) China’s disbursement of its large foreign-exchange reserves will be on a businesslike basis. The Chinese government remembers how Japan pissed away its reserves and clout through its reckless overseas acquisition binge in the 1970s.

If SAIC wants to buy GM, they’ll have to put together an iron-clad business case for the acquisition. I find it difficult to imagine that SAIC or any other Chinese automaker–all of whom manufacture primarily in China–can make a convincing case to a skeptical government that they are ready to take over one of the planet’s largest, most complex–and troubled–globalized industrial enterprises.

China’s facing a slowdown of growth of its own and the need to stimulate and restructure its own economy to prevent social unrest. Big strategic expenditures (i.e. money put out without a clear and realistic return on investment) will be domestic and infrastructure/employment-related and probably not for immense, politically sensitive, foreign acquisitions of unprecedented scope and difficulty.

Here are the quotes from the 21st Century Business Herald article:

With the continual worsening of the world financial crisis, GM and Chrysler face the danger of global bankruptcy. As to who will take over their operations in the end, currently the loudest voices are on Toyota’s behalf. At the same time, some Chinese car builders are also making proposals to take over operations.


On November 15, Industry and Information Technology Ministry Equipment Industry Division Chief Zhang Xiangmu revealed to correspondents that SAIC and Eastern Motors have interest in taking over some assets. [emph. added–CH]


Asian Manufacturer’s Association Secretary Luo Jun also stated that the world economic crisis may bring an opportunity for China’s equipment manufacturing industry to upgrade. There’s going to be a shakeout of lower value added enterprises and a group of innovative and financially strong enterprises will emerge. When European and American manufacturers are in difficulty, the resistance to globalization by Chinese enterprises is reduced. Over the next two years it is possible that some Chinese manufacturers will successfully internationalize.


During the consolidation, Chinese enterprises could begin by purchasing GM suppliers and GM’s China joint ventures, Deloitte Touche China believes.


GM wants to ask Toyota to purchase some assets…but Toyota’s management is taking a cautious attitude.



With GM’s helplessness and Toyota’s hesitation, there would seem to be an opportunity for China’s automakers to get their foot in the door.


“…this is an opportunity for Chinese capital to get into the U.S. auto industry ‘on the cheap’”, specialists of the China Automative Association stated. “We already have the precedent of Chang Feng Automotive announcing it will compete to buy GM’s Hummer brand”.

[Note: Apparently GM has been shopping Hummer to India, Russia, and China since August of this year, considering the brand without a future in the age of high gas costs.—CH]


China Academy of Social Sciences Deputy Chief and Chairman of the Asian Manufacturers’ Association Cheng Jiagui believes that the chance to buy entire manufacturing lines is “an unattainable dream”. With China’s limited capability and experience in globalization, it could be a case “taking a sick horse and turning it into a dead horse”.


Jin Jian [of Deloitte Touche] points out, China could begin by buying GM’s China’s joint venture companies or component manufacturers. GM is unwilling to go into bankruptcy, so it’s realistic to sell some assets in order to get operating capital. Looking at the capabilities of China’s automakers, it’s realistic to begin by buying some assets and buying out GM’s interest in the China joint ventures. It’s just too big a risk to try to take over the entire enterprise and the chance of this happening look slim.


(Republished from China Matters by permission of author or representative)
• Category: Foreign Policy • Tags: China, GM, SAIC 
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