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Fiat Chrysler Automobiles CEO Sergio Marchionne has been fishing for a potential merger partner or buyer for the past couple of years.
His goal is to find someone willing to share the burden of steep capital costs the auto industry demands. Now it seems that one party has finally bitten.
Automotive News (subscription required) has learned from a source that a major Chinese automaker made a bid for all or part of FCA, though the offer was deemed too low. The identity of the automaker is unknown but rumors point to either Dongfeng, Geely, Great Wall or Guangzhou Automobile Group (GAC).
Other sources revealed that several Chinese automakers have been conducting due diligence on a potential purchase of FCA, and that FCA executives met with at least one Chinese automaker, in this case Great Wall. Chinese delegations were also seen recently at FCA’s headquarters in Auburn Hills, Michigan.
This isn’t the first time FCA has been linked with a Chinese automaker regarding a merger or buyout. In May 2016, it was reported that GAC was interested in a stake in FCA, though GAC later denied the report.
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Marchionne has also in recent years approached Ford, General Motors, Toyota and the Volkswagen Group about a potential merger, but has been rebuffed on every occasion. However, VW Group CEO Matthias Müller in March said he would be open to talking with Marchionne once more.
According to Automotive News, one of the main drivers of Chinese interest in FCA is government pressure to expand outside of China by acquiring foreign companies. Geely, which successfully turned around Volvo over the past decade, earlier this year bought major stakes in Lotus and Proton. Tire manufacturer Pirelli was also sold to a Chinese chemical company in 2015.
Acquiring FCA would provide a Chinese automaker with immediate access to the United States market as well as some well-known and highly profitable brands, namely Jeep and Ram. It’s not certain if all FCA brands would be included in any potential sale, however. One of Automotive News’ sources claimed Italian brands Alfa Romeo and Maserati would be spun off, just like Ferrari was in 2015.
FCA’s controlling shareholder is investment firm Exor which in turn is controlled by Italy’s Agnelli family.
Stay tuned for an update.