Alfa to offer AWD, high-performance models

Insiders at Fiat SpA's Alfa Romeo brand tell WAW that the Italian automaker plans to add a high-performance GTA version to its current lineup, starting with the new 156 GTA to be unveiled in September at the Frankfurt motor show. Next will be the GTA 147 range, due next fall. Sources also confirm that all sedan models soon will be offered with all-wheel drive. The 166 will come first in 2004. Sources say the replacement will use a Subaru platform built by Fuji Heavy Industries Ltd. The move is another synergy between Fiat and alliance partner General Motors Corp., which holds a 20% share in Subaru.

Juan Jose Diaz Ruiz, Fiat director of sales and marketing, says Alfa plans to launch a derivative model or a variant every eight to 10 months.

Alfa 147 gets a GTA high-performance boost next fall.

Brazil automakers see March sales rise

Despite a 2.4% drop in the Brazilian economy in March, the auto industry reports an increase of 25% over February sales. Wholesale sales, (from manufacturers to dealers) totaled 156,300 units for cars, pickups and light vans, up 25% over prior month and up 40% over March 2000. Sales totaled 398,000 in the first quarter, up 30% over the same period last year.

Volkswagen AG resumed the top place in sales rankings at the wholesale level, following four months in second place behind Fiat SpA. VW sold 47,500 units to dealers, compared to 39,200 by Fiat in March. VW sales rose 40% over February, while Fiat sales rose 15%. General Motors Corp.'s sales rose 25% over February, totaling 35,780 units. Ford Motor Co. recorded an increase of 10%, delivering 11,200 units to dealers. Renault SA, Honda Motor Co. Ltd., Toyota Motor Corp., Mercedes-Benz and importers delivered a total of 16,000 units to their respective dealers, says the Brazil automakers group, Anfavea.

Golf led VW sales to top the leader board in Brazil.

GM, SAIC pursue minivehicle deal

General Motors Corp. and Shanghai Automotive Industry Corp. (SAIC) extend their partnership in China through a proposed purchase of leading minivehicle maker Liuzhou Wuling Automotive Co. Ltd. GM and SAIC currently operate a joint venture in Shanghai that produces Buick sedans, minivans and compact cars.

The deal with Liuzhou Wuling, based in the Guangxi Zhuang autonomous region, proposes the largest automotive asset reorganization ever to be executed in China. Under the plan, GM would buy 34% of Wuling's shares through an initial public offering, when the minivehicle manufacturer becomes listed on Shanghai's B-share market. SAIC would acquire 50.1% of Wuling's state-owned shares to have the controlling role in the planned share-holding company. The deal, worth RMB2 billion (US$241 million), is expected to receive the green light within the year.

After the asset reorganization, the automaker anticipates raising production to 400,000 units annually, from its current level of 200,000 units.

GM denies dragging feet on Daewoo

An insider at General Motors Corp. in Korea tells WAW that news reports claiming GM may delay its decision to buy bankrupt Daewoo Motor Co. Ltd. until 2002 are incorrect. “None of the GM senior executives in Detroit have made any kind of statement regarding a change in our interest in acquiring the Daewoo Motor assets, and things are still going on as they have been,” the source says. “Nobody has issued any kind of statement indicating that there has been a change in timing.”

The confusion, he says, is a result of a translator's misunderstanding of off-hand remarks made by GM's Asia/Pacific President Rudolph Schlais during a recent interview with several Korean reporters (see related story, Auto Talk p.28). When the reporters asked if GM would make an offer for Daewoo by the end of June, Mr. Schlais said that he doubted it because due diligence was still in progress, and there were many factors complicating the situation.

At which point he made his off-hand remarks about things perhaps taking much longer. Despite the follow-up spin, his remarks have some leading analysts in Korea convinced that GM is not interested in acquiring the automaker and may back away from the deal.

“I'm beginning to doubt that GM is really in any position to take over Daewoo Motor at this point,” says Richard Pyo, security analyst with Credit Suisse First Boston and an expert on the Korean automotive industry. Mark Barclay, an automotive analyst with Samsung Securities, calls Mr. Schlais's remarks somewhat surprising. “I think he gave a strong indication that it's going to take a lot longer than anyone thought to get things resolved,” he says.