While Americans were celebrating their historic independence from British rule on the July 4 weekend, billionaire investor Kirk Kerkorian was busy whipping up a deal with a French-Japanese auto alliance in which they would buy a sizable chunk of.
Kerkorian, GM’s largest individual investor with 56 million shares, or 9.9% of the No.1 U.S. auto maker, is urging theAlliance, formed in 1999, to take a combined 20% stake in GM for a hefty $3 billion. Along with Kerkorian’s share, the deal ultimately could create a controlling triumvirate.
It’s no secret Kerkorian has been impatient with the slow pace of GM Chief Rick Wagoner’s effort to restructure his ailing car company, despite the recent announcement that 35,000 GM union workers have agreed to take early retirement or contract buyouts.
And it should surprise no one that Kerkorian has turned to Carlos Ghosn, the darling of the industry for his recent success in’s spectacular 3-year turnaround and his earlier restructuring of . Jerome York, Kerkorian’s representative on the GM board, cited Ghosn in a speech in January as the person GM should turn to for guidance.
Following Kerkorian’s secret talks with Ghosn in Nashville, Renault and Nissan last week issued a joint public statement saying they were open to exploring the idea of a 3-way alliance.
GM shares reportedly jumped 8.6% at the news of the proposed deal, nicely increasing the value of Kerkorian’s GM stock by $140 million.
But the way this stunning development unfolded leaves an unsavory taste, with Kerkorian’s speedy public filing of the proposal with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission before GM’s board had an opportunity to react.
A meeting between Wagoner and Ghosn already was scheduled for later this month, so why the rush to go public at this preliminary stage other than to blindside GM?
Kerkorian played a much more low-key role in the early 1990s when he took a stake in U.S. No.3 auto maker, ultimately convincing the company’s management to engage in talks with Germany’s -Benz.
Industry consensus is mixed regarding the benefits of this latest mega- alliance proposal. While there is much overlapping of product, there could be cost savings in Europe if GM’s Opel brand were to use Renault platforms and diesel engine expertise.
GM, in turn, could open the door for Renault’s return to the U.S. And Nissan could benefit from GM’s success in Asia, notably China and Korea.
But the gamble is huge. All three companies currently suffer from lagging sales, while GM is trying to rebound from a $10.6 billion loss last year. And all would be challenged by a management structure that sought to control three global car companies with different cultures and structures.
What is clear is that such a tectonic shift within the global industry certainly would havelooking over its shoulder. Sadly, it also would leave the last true American auto maker left standing.