DETROIT - Imagine an automaker that incorporatesMotor Corp.'s advanced vehicle technology; Motor Co. Ltd.'s engine-development prowess; Subaru's leading-edge all-wheel-drive systems; Suzuki Motor Corp.'s minicar superiority, and Motors Ltd.'s diesel-engine expertise.
Throw in production capability in difficult-to-penetrate but highly promising markets, such as Japan, South Korea and China. Then, grant the company the sheer size and cash reserves of the world's largest automobile manufacturer.
An improbable scenario? Hardly.Corp. is well on its way to making it a reality. Already, the No.1 automaker simultaneously is putting some of the finest automotive technologies in its back pocket and increasing its stance in Asia, a continent expected to hold the industry's greatest potential.
"Our data would suggest that in the next 10 years there would be more growth in this region than in North America and Europe combined," says GM President G. Richard Wagoner Jr.
Instead of pursuing potential alone, particularly in a region where it has been impossible for a foreign automaker to make a true impact, GM is teaming up with companies that provide an advantage.
The automaker in recent months has been actively engaging in both technical and capital tie-ups with Asia's automotive heavy hitters. By doing so, GM is leveraging technology of partners new and old, while gaining unprecedented access to the Asian market - where it vows to increase its current 4.5% market share to 10% by 2005.
"A major full-scale acquisition really isn't necessary for us to succeed in this consolidating world," Mr. Wagoner says. "I have to be clear though, this doesn't mean we won't try to take advantage of opportunities as they arise, particularly if they help us in areas where we are weaker."
Such a plan is key to GM's strategy. The recent purchase of a 20% stake in Subaru-makerHeavy Industries Ltd. was conceived, negotiated and closed in an extremely tight timeframe, GM officials say.
The $1.4 billion deal calls for GM to use's 4-wheel-drive technology. Plus, the two have announced plans to jointly develop small sport/utility vehicles (SUVs) - both areas where GM arguably is weak.
GM's Asian shopping spree has spilled into Korea, as well, where it is battling it out in a bid for Daewoo Motor Co. Ltd., the automotive arm of the insolvent Daewoo Group chaebol.
GM in December extended an offer to take over Daewoo Motor's domestic operations for possibly as much as $6 billion. The offer was rejected, however, and Daewoo's domestic creditor banks plan to auction off the automotive arm. GM officials now are awaiting word from the creditors. Company officials say they learned this latest development through media reports, and that neither the creditors nor the Korean government officially informed GM about the planned auction.
Ownership of Daewoo would open the door to Asia's second largest but most highly protected automotive market. Plus Daewoo possesses several high-tech manufacturing facilities, both in Korea and Eastern Europe.
GM also owns stakes inand - 49% and 10%, respectively. At October's Tokyo Motor Show, the three automakers announced a slate of new collaborative efforts. They include concept cars, such as the Chevy Triax, which accommodates a gas, electric or hybrid powertrain; production cars such as the YGM-1, to be made jointly by GM and Suzuki in Asia for the Asian market; and engines, such as a 6.6L V-8 direct-injection Isuzu diesel engine designed for GM fullsize pickups.
, meanwhile, entered into a technical agreement with GM in December in which Honda would supply low-emissions gasoline engines to GM, most probably the V-type 6-cyl. to be manufactured at Honda's Ohio plant. In turn, Isuzu would supply Honda with diesel engines.
GM also promises progress in its collaborative technology development effort with. The fledgling enterprise, which encompasses a dozen projects, focuses on advanced vehicle technology for electric, hybrid and fuel-cell vehicles. Mr. Wagoner predicts that new developments soon will come out of the five-year agreement, which began last April.
While collaborative technical efforts may not further GM's stance in Asia, they do create economies of scale when developing expensive and risky new technologies. Plus, the more entrenched GM products become with Japanese automakers, the greater the chance of gaining acceptance in Japan's highly nationalistic home market.
But Japan is not GM's only focus. The automaker recently broke ground on two new plants: one in Thailand, where it plans to build the Opel Zafira and later add another yet-to-be-determined vehicle, and one in Shenyang, China, with Jinbei Automotive Industry Co. Ltd., a subsidiary of First Auto Works. The partners will build Chevrolet Blazers.
GM and Shanghai Automotive Industry Co. began producing Buick models in Shanghai last year and soon will add minivans to the original production facility.
While this laundry list of recent developments shows GM's well-rounded, diversified and fluid strategy to reach its 10%-Asian market-share goal, there's no reason to think the automaker plans to stop there. While analysts say that acquiring Daewoo will make GM the strongest player in Asia, GM's share increates several interesting possibilities.
Suzuki'sUdyog Inc. joint venture in India and Chang'an Alto Vehicle Co., a JV to build mini-compacts in Chongqing, China, both leave the door open for collaboration in those small-car markets.