GM is investing $3.6 billion in Brazil

SAO PAULO — Jose Carlos Pinheiro Neto, vice president of GM do Brasil, predicts Brazil will sell 1.8 million vehicles in 2001, noting that the country is key to global auto manufacturers due to its potential growth. Brazil has one vehicle for every nine inhabitants. Argentina has one vehicle for every five persons and in Mexico, it's one to seven. “To reach the same level as Argentina, Brazil will have to double its fleet,” the GM executive says. “This opens up an amazing market.” GM is investing $3.6 billion in the Brazilian market, of which $2 billion already has been invested in the state of Sao Paulo and in the Celta factory at Gravatai, Rio Grande do Sul. The remaining funds will be invested over the next two years.

Maserati Spider delayed until late 2001

TURIN — The renaissance of the Maserati brand, committed late in 1997 to rival Ferrari, is taking longer than anticipated despite the efforts of the latest F1 champions. Production and sales are missing the target for the second consecutive year, and the launch of the Maserati 3200 GT Spider has been delayed to late 2001 or early 2002.

Last year Maserati was supposed to produce and sell 2,050 units, but sales only hit 1,853 units, and data concerning production has not been released. Production plans called for 3,500 cars in 2001 and 6,000 units in 2003, although timetables and volumes still are being reconsidered. Inside sources suggest that Maserati is not on target as a consequence of the unexpected and unexplained departure of Managing Director Paolo Marinsek. The good news, they say, is that the new Maserati Spider might be making its first appearance at the Frankfurt Motor Show next September.

The Spider reportedly will be much more than a 3200 GT coupe; its roof will be replaced by a canvas top to be open and stored between the cabin and the trunk. To make it a real Maserati Spider, the 3200 GT has been dramatically modified. Its cabin has been shortened and the back seat eliminated.

Plus, the wheelbase has been shortened. The current V-8 dual-turbo version will be replaced by a much cleaner 4L 400-hp V-8.

Maruti stake draws several suitors

NEW DELHI — The Indian government is in talks with Suzuki Motor Corp. regarding the sale of its stake in Maruti Udyog Ltd. Suzuki and the government own India's largest automaker in a 50/50 partnership, but India is looking to divest at least a portion of its share. Ford Motor Co., which has made significant inroads into the Indian market with its Ikon car, recently expressed interest in purchasing the open stake in Maruti, saying that if the offer came up, the company would consider it. A more likely possibility, if negotiations with Suzuki don't end in a purchase, would be General Motors Corp. GM, which recently increased its stake in Suzuki to 20%, has laid out a strategy to establish global reach through equity stakes in several automakers. Indian motorbike maker Bajaj Auto Ltd. also says it is interested in Maruti and has begun talks with the government. India's scooter market is waning, and Bajaj's profits have been suffering. The company is looking to strengthen its stance in the country's burgeoning automotive market. Suzuki has the right to approve or refuse any potential buyer and may turn away GM-rival Ford.

Is this the start of a Korean slide?

SEOUL — Korea's car market may be headed for a drastic decline. Security analyst Mark Barclay, of Samsung Securities, thinks so. Mr. Barclay is surprised by preliminary November sales numbers, which should have shown big gains for both Hyundai Motor Co. Ltd. and its subsidiary Kia Motor Corp., resulting from Daewoo Motor Co. Ltd.'s recently declared bankruptcy.

The troubled automaker in recent weeks has experienced interrupted production and plummeting sales that reflect major declines in consumer confidence. Mr. Barclay says Daewoo's domestic sales are off by 18% for November versus the previous month. They are down by 42% compared to the same month one year ago. Yet rivals Hyundai and Kia have not shown corresponding gains, although they undoubtedly have picked up a portion of the lost Daewoo sales. Hyundai's domestic sales were down 13% in November compared to the previous month, and off by 22% compared to November 1999. Kia's sales were up 8% month-on-month in November but down 8% compared to a year ago. Allowing that it may take longer for results of crossover sales to show up, Mr. Barclay says that no net gains indicate a faster than expected slowdown in domestic car sales.

The company's business plan for 2001 anticipates drastic drops in sales both domestically and in the export markets.