Will they or won’t they? That’s currently the talk amongst Germany’s auto execs. “They” are Volkswagen and Suzuki. And “will” refers to taking over Suzuki against its will. Yesterday, Der Spiegel, reported that Volkswagen is no longer barred from taking over Suzuki if Suzuki cancels its contract. Der Spiegel, of course, heard that from an interested party that telegraphs to Hamamatsu. “Be careful what you wish for.” Nonetheless, the rumor mill is at high revs. Let’s investigate.
Reuters called the usual bank analysts a wire service calls when nobody is talking.
“I think it is rather unlikely that Volkswagen will go for a hostile takeover of Suzuki,” said Christian Breitsprecher, and analyst at Macquarie Research. Commerzbank analyst Daniel Schwarz put it more bluntly: “VW simply won’t be able to take over all of Suzuki against his will.” Agreed.
A hostile takeover of a Japanese company is a rare incident. A hostile takeover by foreigners is as likely as me getting Japanese citizenship (theoretically possible, but in practicality …) A hostile takeover of a Japanese car company is as probable as hell being occupied by Antarctica. Suzuki probably has taken a mega dose of poison pills, and if push comes to shove, there will be a horde of white samurai that will protect Suzuki from being abducted by gaijin.
In the unlikely event of a successful takeover, a high-ranking contact at an (unrelated) Japanese carmaker put it even more melodramatically:
“How could VW successfully take over Suzuki at this point? The entire company is against VW and has embarked on an unprecedented public takedown campaign against VW. No way this will go forward. The immune system of Suzuki will attack and reject the virus.”
Shingi rarenai! (Incredible.)
Indeed, it is hard to believe that the autocratic management style of Volkswagen would succeed in a passive-aggressive environment called Hamamatsu. In his early days at the helm of Volkswagen, Piech often complained about the “Lehmschicht” , the layer of clay he was unable to dig through at Volkswagen, something that was achieved only decades later, when all the clay was retired. In Hamamatsu, he would face a clay mountain. Just imagine the misunderstandings and things that get lost in translation …
Meanwhile in Germany, nasty rumors are spreading that Ferdinand Piech, at 74 a teenager compared to the 84 year old Osamu Suzuki, could be faltering. Journalists invited to Volkswagen’s pre-Frankfurt Motor Show press bash, remarked that Piech looked distraught, if not disoriented.
The Financial Times is leading the charge here:
“After a difficult few days for the German carmaking group that saw Mr Piëch’s will thwarted on two fronts – its abortive alliance with Suzuki, and VW’s planned merger with Porsche – he was at an uncharacteristic loss for words. Shielded by his wife Ursula, he deflected most questions with soft, near-monosyllabic responses.”
Piech usually doesn’t say much, but the short remarks coming from his thinning lips usually are high-explosive grenades. He is famous for his soft spoken, but sharp digs. When he is under pressure, he gets even more quiet.
In Volkswagen circles, there sometimes was the remark that the 84 year old Suzuki possibly could require a successor soon, who might be less tough than the Old Man. Let’s hope the nasty journos have it wrong and it’s not Piech who requires a successor.