GM Holden Ltd. denies a report Dongfeng Motor Corp., China’s third-largest auto maker, is in talks about buying the Australian subsidiary.

The Melbourne Age reports Dongfeng Vice President Li Shaozhu revealed an interest in GM Holden, after taking Australian Trade Minister Simon Crean and Industry Minister Kim Carr on a tour of the Chinese auto maker’s factories in Wuhan.

In an interview with an Age reporter, Li was asked if his company has considered buying an Australian auto maker such as GM Holden.

“We are paying close attention to the impact the financial crisis has had on the international automotive industry, and we're keen about utilizing such resources,” he is quoted as saying.

The Age then asked specifically about GM Holden. “We've been paying attention, and there have been contacts,” Li reportedly replied.

The newspaper says the recorded interview ended at this stage, after a dispute between Li and his interpreter.

However, the reference to “contacts” sent shockwaves reverberating through Australia.

“We’re not aware of any approach from Dongfeng or any discussions for that matter – nothing formally or informally,” GM Holden spokesman Scott Wiffen tells Ward’s in response to an email inquiry.

“No one has spoken to our Managing Director Mark Reuss, our GM China head Kevin Wale or our Asia/Pacific President Nick Reilly; no one has spoken to the (GM) Holden board.

“To the question is (GM) Holden about to be sold – the answer is no. And to the question are there even discussions under way to sell or even offer a stake in (GM) Holden – again, no.”

Wiffen says it also is unlikely Dongfeng is in secret talks with General Motors Co. in the U.S.

“None of our senior people have heard anything about this – which they would have – unless it was hypersensitive and super secret, in which case why would Dongfeng be talking it up to Australian journalists?

“Definitely a disconnect…or more likely something lost in translation.”

Industry Minister Kim Carr tells the newspaper, “Dongfeng (is) interested in investments in Australia, but the discussions we have had regarded components manufacturers...which could include engines.”

Oz Trade Minister Crean, in addressing a news conference after his visit to the Dongfeng plant, says the Chinese auto maker is in the process of developing its own brand of vehicle.

“Up until now, it has done it in a joint venture (with Nissan Motor Co. Ltd.), and we visited one of the JV operations,” he says.

“In developing their own brand, (Dongfeng) understand(s) the strength of the Australian automotive sector. They want to develop cooperation on that front. They also agreed on a working party of officials to go through and prioritize the sorts of areas that we can produce that cooperation from.”

“This is the time to strike, because the car industry is undergoing fundamental global restructuring,” Crean adds.

Carr tells the news conference Australia can benefit from China’s booming auto industry.

“There’s a wave of opportunity sweeping through this region, and we want the Australian industry to be able to ride that wave. What we’re looking at is the prospect of us being able to participate in the next phase of the development of the Chinese automotive industry.

“The…industry is developing their own models; they want to break away from the joint-venture model that they’ve seen in so many other areas. They want to concentrate on the creation of indigenous models at the high-quality end of the market. And that’s where we can play a significant part.”