Like other multinational companies,is watching for fire sales. "Opportunity is the watch word," Mr. Heine says. "We're looking at Korea and Thailand. Our direction hasn't changed. This fits into our strategic plan." Mr. Heine recently made a stopover in South Korea, where, he joked, it was difficult to find a hotel room due to so many visiting foreign companies. Just a few years ago, the South Korean automotive industry epitomized the country's post-war economic miracle. These days, the nation's financial crisis has put the brakes on car sales - with the numbers down by 50% in March, compared to the same month last year. The situation is causing a major industry shakeout.
Daewoo Motor Co. Ltd., which is bargaining with GM to renew their alliance, recently bought Ssangyong Motor Co., the fourth-ranking and smallest carmaker. No.1 Korean automakerMotor Co. Ltd. says it intends to buy Kia Motors Corp., the nation's No.3 automaker, which went into receivership last summer. Upstart Samsung Motor Co. is negotiating with Motor Co. and says it wants to form an alliance to buy Kia. In addition, the landscape for Korea's top conglomerates, or chaebol, rapidly is changing due to reforms easing rules on direct foreign investment and hostile takeovers.
LucasVarity plc, for example, is considering a bid for brake manufacturer Mando Machine Corp., which would mark a significant strategic expansion into Southeast Asia for the U.K. components group. Mando, a leading supplier toMotor, saw sales fall from $1.2 billion in 1996 to $497.6 million in 1997.
Japan's Omron Corp. converted its Omron Automotive Electronics Korea Co. (OKA) joint venture into a wholly owned subsidiary in March. Omron hopes to strengthen OKA, a maker of keyless-entry systems and power-window switches for autos, and improve efficiency at the company. OKA, in turn, purchased the right to operate auto electronics- device maker Tong Hae, as well as its relevant factory.
, on the other hand, sold its equity in Korea Spicer Mfg. to its Korean JV partner. The company produces transaxles and driveshaft components. Dana Korea, however, is expanding its sales office and looking for potential opportunities. "It's tough keeping your eyes focused on the long-term," Mr. Heine says. "We still believe in Asia/Pacific. People here are not down and out. They are strong people, and they will be back. We are looking toward the future."