Thursday, May 7, 2009

China Carmakers May Buy Taiwan Technology to Fight GM

Chinese automakers have bought assets from the U.K. to Australia as they seek to challenge General Motors Corp. and Toyota Motor Corp. in the global market. Their next stop may be closer to home.

Taiwan’s biggest partsmaker, Tong Yang Industry Co., and TYC Brother Industrial Co., ranked second, both said this week they’re open to deals that may help boost sales in China, Asia’s biggest auto market. China’s push to develop more-advanced cars and warming cross-strait ties may make that possible.

“It is a good idea to take over partsmakers in Taiwan,” said Yale Zhang, a consultant at CSM Asia in Shanghai. “Component-makers there have come up with outstanding technologies in many areas.”

Tong Yang and TYC Brother have both more than doubled in Taipei trading this year on speculation mainland carmakers’ existing ties with Taiwan suppliers may lead to direct investments. The island’s auto industry will likely be one of the first opened to mainland companies. SAIC Motor Corp., China’s biggest domestic automaker, and Geely Holding Group Co. have both previously bought assets overseas.

China wants “to buy industry leaders -- the biggest and the best,” said Peter Tzeng, a Taipei-based Polaris Securities Co. analyst.

Tong Yang

Tong Yang, the world’s biggest maker of replacement fenders, would consider approaches from Chinese investors, said Fancy Hsu, a spokeswoman. None has been received so far, she added. The company, which built its first mainland factory, in 1994, supplies automakers including Chery Automobile Co., China’s biggest own-brand carmaker, and China FAW Group Corp.

TYC Brother would “welcome proposals from Chinese carmakers to buy a stake if the tie-up will help us expand in China and globally,” said spokesman Hsia Kang. Depo Auto Parts Industrial Co., Taiwan’s No. 3 partsmaker by sales, will also consider deals if any are offered, said spokesman Anshun Cheng.

Tong Yang, which also makes body-parts and windshields, climbed 0.2 percent in Taipei trading to NT$32.15 at 9:15 a.m. TYC Brother rose 0.7 percent to NT$22.2. Tong Yang is the second-best performer this year among the 45 companies in Bloomberg’s global partsmaker index.

Taiwan-China Links

Chinese carmakers can consider deals in Taiwan as the mainland government announced the end of an investment ban on April 29. The same day, China Mobile Ltd. said it had agreed to buy 12 percent of Far EasTone Telecommunications Co., the first investment by a Chinese state-owned company in Taiwan since a civil war ended six decades ago.

The Taiwan cabinet is set to consider opening up 65 industries, including the autos, to mainland investors within two months, Fan Liang-tung, executive secretary of the Ministry of Economic Affairs’ Investment Commission, said May 6.

Chinese automakers are already building a presence in Taiwan, with Chery and Geely, the largest private automaker, both set to begin sales there this year. An automakers’ group also sent an 83-member delegation to the island last month to look at options, including cooperation in developing in-car navigation systems.

“We see a lot of opportunities for development in Taiwan,” said Jin Yibo, a spokesman for Wuhu, China-based Chery. The automaker, which will offer A3 compacts in Taiwan from November, will source 60 percent of parts locally, he added.

Need Technologies

Chinese automakers are interested in investing in overseas partsmakers as a lack of technology is hindering government plans to develop global players. At present, most local carmakers are predominately assemblers for overseas automakers.

“What we need most is the core technologies, such as the capacity to design and make engines and gearboxes,” said Zeng Qinghong, general manager of Guangzhou Automobile Group Co., a Chinese partner of Toyota and Honda Motor Co. The company will consider acquisitions at home and overseas, he added.

The government is merging the 14 biggest automakers into 10 and supporting research into alternative-energy vehicles to help develop the industry. Geely Group is also in talks to buy Ford Motor Co.’s Volvo Car Corp. unit, according to people familiar with the situation. Wang Ziliang, a spokesman, wasn’t available for comment.

Still, Chinese automakers haven’t always benefited much from overseas deals. SAIC bought rights for cars designed by collapsed U.K. automaker MG Rover Group Ltd. in 2005 to temper its reliance on partners GM and Volkswagen AG. Last year, GM and Volkswagen vehicles still accounted for more than 90 percent of sales. SAIC’s South Korean unit, Ssangyong Motor Co., also entered receivership in February after sport-utility-vehicles sales plunged.

Management Skills

“Whether Chinese companies have the management skills needed for overseas investments is the question,” said Zhang Xin, a Guotai Junan Securities Co. analyst in Beijing. The small size of the partsmakers -- Tong Yang has a market value of about $440 million -- may also limit the benefits of deals, he added.

Zhu Xiangjun, a SAIC spokeswoman, declined to comment on the carmaker’s plans in Taiwan.

Chinese automakers have pursued small overseas acquisitions to fill specific needs and provide a platform for future developments. Geely Group agreed to buy Australia-based Drivetrain Systems International, the world’s second-biggest independent maker of automaker gearboxes, for about A$47.4 million ($36 million) earlier this year. Other deals may follow as carmakers can count on state support, said Zhang.

“Money is definitely not an issue,” he said.