Supposedly, the idea of the Saab / Pangda deal was to skirt requirements to obtain Chinese government approval. As we have explained on the day the MoU (as Muller sees it) or contract (as Pangda sees it) was signed, it would be most silly to try to get around the Chinese government. They have a whole array of measures to demonstrate their displeasure if they don’t like a deal.
If ChinaCarTimes is correctly informed, the paperwork was barely dry and the Chinese government already made its annoyance felt. According to a CCT report, the Chinese government issued a warning to Pangda. The story is written in Chinglish, but this is what it seems to be saying:
Russian President Vladimir Putin has spent much time and many rubles trying to turn around his nation’s struggling automakers, particularly AvtoVAZ, the makers of the infamous Lada brand. Putin is, after all, a deep believer in the national importance of automaking… which is why he drives a Lada himself. But Putin is also shrewd enough to know that automotive patriotism can have some nasty side effects, which is why his Lada has had its engine discretely swapped for an Opel mill. But apparently Putin hasn’t learned to completely insulate himself from the embarrassment that the Russian auto industry appears to manufacture with at least as much efficiency as it manufactures cars. At the launch of something called the Lada Granta, Putin’s struggles to even start the car were caught on video and posted at Jalopnik. The Moscow Times makes no reference to the humiliating episode, but mentions that Putin hinted darkly to the assembled journalists that the Granta’s trunk could fit “easily take two sacks of potatoes.” If you know what he means… and trust me, anyone who’s been to Tolyatti before does.
Today, 3,700 employees of Saab received an invitation to come to an all hands meeting tomorrow, Wednesday. It will be a break from the doldrums. In Trollhättan, the lines have been down for three weeks now because Saab has no money to pay parts suppliers, reports Automobilwoche [sub]. Tuesday ended in Sweden without a solution. Suppliers, unions and Swedish politicians demand immediate action, or Saab will go down the drain.
Talk about a Chinese savior has died down. All hopes hinge on Vladimir Antonov, and the sale of the factory to the Russian, well, business man. The problem is: The real estate is collateral for a loan from the European Investment Bank (EIB). Saab told Automobilwoche that the sale is “no sure” due to harsh demands by the EIB.
The Swedish government has agreed to let Saab free up collateral now used to back the EIB loan, of which Saab so far has drawn 217 million euros, the people said. The freed-up collateral allows Saab to sell property to Antonov’s company. The property to be sold would include at least parts of Saab’s factory in Trollhaettan in southwestern Sweden, where the carmaker is based.
Saab (technically still called Spyker Cars) also recently sold its Spyker sportscar business to Antonov who continues to be the only major investor involved in Saab and its ongoing rescue. And though Antonov continues to be happy to pour his money into the firm, it’s not as simple as just writing a check: Antonov keeps offering support and governments keep shooting them down. Where’s the private capital love?
Yesterday, Spyker CEO Muller said everything is peachy. Saab “is not on the verge of collapse,” Muller said to a rapt audience of reporters, while, as Reuters snidely remarked, “Saab was presenting new vehicles already shown at the Geneva auto show.” Muller promised that “a small glitch does not change the fact that cars are being made,” and that Saab would have the widest and newest range in its history next year. This year? No problem at all. Just that output would be more weighted towards the second half of the year. Which in itself would be a miracle, and outpacing the competition, because in Europe, auto sales are more weighted towards the first half of the year. This was yesterday. Now is today.
Toyota today confirmed the month-old rumor that they will go to Siberia. And by way of ESP, we had even pictured the correct car when we wrote about it.
“Russia is an up and coming country with a sudden influx of foreigners,” says my favorite mail-order bride site. “there is a great deal of fascination about foreigners.” No kidding. The world’s automakers must be on a speed-dating jaunt through Russia. Today, Reuters reports that GM and Russia’s Avtotor are in joint venture talks. The plan: At least 300,000 cars per year. It’s not all idle talk, because Valery Gorbunov, Avtotor’s chief executive, told Reuters that a JV is definitely in the cards.
It must be Russian week. Yesterday , it was Ford and Sollers (and Sollers minus Fiat/Chrysler). Today, it’s Volkswagen and GAZ going to the altar. The two plan a joint venture to produce 300,000 cars per year in Russia, The Moscow Times reports.
Fiat’s plans to build up to 500,000 Chryslers and Jeeps in Russia collapsed last week. Chrysler’s cross-town rival Ford may have had something to do with that. On Friday, Ford and Russia’s Sollers “signed a Memorandum of Understanding under which the parties intend to launch a new 50:50-owned joint venture called Ford Sollers for the production and distribution of Ford vehicles in Russia,” says a Sollers communiqué. Sollers also had been in talks with Fiat, which ended fruitless. The end of the Fiat talks were announced on the same day the deal with Ford was revealed.
While Mazda is still talking with Russian politicos about producing cars in Siberia, Toyota is doing it. Toyota “is moving into the Russian Far East ahead of other Japanese automakers as part of a high-priority effort to tap emerging markets,” at least as far as The Nikkei [sub] is concerned.
Remember Oleg Deripaska? The Russian oligarch that had been under suspicion of money laundering and organized crime activities? The very same Deripaska GM did not want to have close to Opel for fear of losing their precious intellectual property ? Yes, him. GM just handed him the blueprints and the tooling for the Chevy Aveo.
We sometimes forget that Russia is very close to Japan. So close that you can see Russia (or Japan) with the naked eye. For many years, Japan’s used cars were literally sent to Siberia, where they did, right hand drive be damned, hard duty in a climate they were not built for. Mazda is thinking of reviving the far eastern ties between Russia and Japan.
Scotia Bank in Toronto has an insightful and resourceful car analyst, Carlos Gomes. Whatever he writes is worth reading. He expects car sales to rise and the “United States and the euro zone to climb out of their deep hole.” He also expects that the developed nations are ripe to be plucked and eaten by an upstart, roughhewn crowd:
“In 2011, new car sales in China and the other BRIC nations (Brazil, Russia, India and China) will surpass the combined volumes of Western Europe and Japan, and account for roughly 30 per cent of global car sales.”
Here is his case:
Yo, wazzup?`Want to get your hands on Russia’s first homegrown hybrid, yo? All you need to do is get yo sorry azz over to Moscow, dat Russia for you, yo. According to Itar-Tass, the Russian yo-Auto company shows their “yo” hybrid at the yo-mobile pavilion in downtown Moscow from January 2 through 11. Yo, dat’s right.
Russia has complained long and bitterly that Western firms refuse to share technology with its home-grown auto industry, but now the billionaire owner of the New Jersey Nets has introduced Russia’s first home-grown hybrid cars in hopes of proving that Russia can compete in the global car industry. But, according to the WSJ, the launch of the brand known as “Yo” (“ë” in Russian) was not without its problems
Mr. Prokhorov said he intends to “break the stereotype saying Russia can’t produce good cars,” even though an executive needed three attempts to successfully start the prototype car with a mobile phone using a remote-start feature.
But then what do you expect from a Russian-built prototype of a hybrid car that’s set to cost only $10k?
A few days ago the BBC reported that, officially, Russia was losing 1 trillion rubles (that’s about $32.5b to you) due to corruption. Also coming 154th on the corruption perceptions index does not help matters, either. “Gigantic sums of money are being pocketed by officials and dishonest businessmen,” said Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, “Deal with them and put them in prison – there is no other way out.” So it sounds like President Medvedev is serious about dealing with corruption. He starts with a foreign company with deep pockets: Daimler. Again?
Localities may one day issue tickets for the crime of driving under the influence of alcohol (DUI) by mail. The Russian firm Laser Systems has developed Alcolaser, a device that uses lasers to remotely detect the presence of alcohol vapors in an automobile. The Alcolaser is available in either in the form of a handheld gun the size of a police radar or in a mounted version designed to work from a moving police car.
The device takes about half-a-second to scan an automobile. According to the manufacturer, the laser has a range of 65 feet and can test vehicles moving at up to 75 MPH. Laser Systems claims that Alcolaser can detect amounts as small as a quart of beer or 3.5 ounces of vodka without being fooled by other sources of ethanol that might be present in a passenger compartment.
In the car world, the BRIC countries have already got their institutional market leaders. That’s how quick these markets are moving. General Motors and Volkswagen have an iron grip on the Chinese market, Suzuki and Hyundai have India in their palms. Fiat is king in Brazil. But Russia is still anybody’s game. Well, Renault and Nissan want to change that.
In order to produce and sell cars in China, foreign firms are required to form joint partnerships with a Chinese firm. With a ten-year, $15b government EV stimulus in the works, automakers are complaining that a requirement to build EVs in partnership with Chinese firms amounts to government-mandated barrier to market access. A foreign automaker executive complains to the Wall Street Journal that the draft version of the government plan is
tantamount to China strong-arming foreign auto makers to give up battery, electric-motor, and control technology in exchange for market access… We don’t like it.
China’s automotive market is projected to grow faster than most, and with $15b of government assistance, the Chinese government has a big carrot with which to tempt foreign firms into sharing their technology. But the backlash is already building…
PSA Peugeot, and their joint venture with China’s Dongfeng, are planning to export cars made in China to Russia, said Gregoire Olivier, Peugeot-Citroen’s recently appointed head of Asian operations, to The Beijing News via Gasgoo.
PSA wants to sell cars made at the Chinese JV in other regions of Asia and Russia as early as next year, said Olivier. The only thing that’s keeping them from doing it right now is the lack of a logistics platform. But they are building that in Shanghai as we speak, and it should be up and running next year.
Because Olivier was recently appointed, he may have missed various memos, and will be forgiven. Here a quick update:
A few days ago, TTAC reported that Vladimir Putin issued an ultimatum to foreign car makers, “invest here or else”. 4 days later, VW announced that they were planning a new assembly line at GAZ, and more capacity at their Kaluga plant in Russia. Coincidence? Probably. But it seems like others are following suit. Pretty bloody quickly.
Mr. Putin must be reading TTAC. B arely did we report that the Russian market is coming back to life, Vladimir Putin stepped in front of the cameras in Moscow, and announced killer measures to put the Russian auto market back into its place.
In a speech today, Putin announced that import tariffs for new cars will be increased “step by step.” He didn’t mention any numbers or dates, but the buyers of that Mulsanne better hurry. And it’s not that importing cars to Russia is particularly cheap right now. Currently, there is a 30 percent import duty on any new car. Smug Vladimir said that Russia is not part of the WTO, so they can put their import duties as high as they damn please.
The fate of the car industry depends highly on the price of oil. Higher oil prices, lower car sales. Lower oil prices, higher cars sales. Everywhere but Russia.
Russia’s main export is energy. Oil and gas. When oil climbed, the Russians were rolling in money and bought cars like crazy. Then came 2008. Oil crashed. The market crashed. Russian oligarchs went bankrupt. The car market followed. Unit sales of passenger cars dropped 50 percent last year. The annual Moscow Motor Show was cancelled. Automakers were worried about their investments into the Russian market. The Russians tried to protect their industry, raised import tariffs. The market plummeted more. Now, all of this is ancient history.
Nearly every manufacturer out there is making a cheap car for the emerging markets. Renault has the Logan, Toyota has the Etios, Tata has the Nano and Ford has the Figo. The reasoning is pretty clear. In order to grow in these markets, you need to offer something that provides a painless upgrade path from a motorcycle to something with four wheels and a roof over your head. When makers like Renault, Ford and Toyota make an offering of this nature, you get the impression that there will be a certain level of quality in the car. Maybe not up to the level more mature markets are used to, but the standards will be high. That comes with a price. Now what if I told you that a certain car maker who is globally known for producing piles of cheap junk is making their own cheap car for emerging markets? What level of quality do you think that cheap car will have?
Did we say that the Russian market is on the rebound with a vengeance? Nissan agrees. Nissan will raise its Russian auto sales target for fiscal 2010 to 100,000 units, up 120 percent from last fiscal year, COO Toshiyuki Shiga told The Nikkei [sub] today. Nissan’s SUVs are selling so briskly that Nissan has trouble keeping up with the demand.
The BRIC countries, Brazil, Russia, India, and China were long seen as the saviors of the world, especially when it comes to cars: large population, very few cars per head, a strong growth. Then 2008 came around, the oil prices dropped, and Russia nearly imploded. Russia was taken off the BRIC list, leaving a BIC behind. If you take a hard look at it, it’s a C, with a BI as future growth market. Now suddenly, the BRIC is back.
You take some of my rescued state-owned automaker, and I’ll take some of yours. That seems to be the cunning plan cooked up by presidents Putin and Sarkozy, as the two face the prospect of rescuing struggling firms in the midst of a weak European market. And actually, it seems that the idea was really Putin’s. French-owned automaker Renault is “more than happy” with its 25 percent stake in the moribund Russian automaker AvtoVAZ, reports Bloomberg, but Russia is offering to buy 15 percent of the French firm if France in turn takes on more AvtoVAZ equity. Considering that Reanult paid $1b for 25 percent of a firm that has been kept alive only by government intervention, a closer embrace of VAZ does not seem advisable. Nor, frankly, does any form of “Franco-Russian Leyland” sound like a good idea.
Designing a product for local tastes is a tricky affair. Just getting the name right is a hassle. Everyone remember the Toyota MR2? Not the French. They remember the Toyota MR. Why? Because “MR2” in French would have sounded like “Em-Ar-Deux” (“Deux” being French for “two”). And “Em-Ar-Deux” sounded very close to “merde” which is French for…..let’s not go into that. So, if getting the name right is a chore, you must do your car research with care if you want to pander to local needs. I mean, get that wrong and you could end up in deep Em-Ar-Deux. But Volkswagen reckons they’ve found what the Russians want …
To stay alive, Opel wants to scale down. The factory in Antwerp is being closed. With amazing results for Opel’s bottom line: Closing the factory costs GM around €400m ($532m) in termination benefits. GM and the unions reached an agreement on the termination benefits earlier this week, reports Reuters. There are 2,600 workers in Antwerp. Now do the math: $532m divvied up amongst 2600 workers is a little bit over $200,000 per worker. Ouch! Wait, there is more pain …
Have you ever done serious business in Russia? Nyet? If you want to keep your conscience pure, don’t. It’s a “gotta pay to play” country. If you don’t make regular payments, the best that can happen to you is that you are out of business. In more serious cases, you pay with your life – a common currency in that country.
Behind that backdrop, it’s humorous to read that “the Russian Prosecutor-General’s Office has asked the United States to provide information about corruption that reportedly accompanied the sale of Mercedes limousines by Russian law enforcement agencies, Prosecutor-General Yuri Chaika told the Federation Council.” That according to Russia’s news agency ITAR-TASS. (It’s “sale to law enforcement agencies.” Someone with lesser English may have made a payment. See video.)
Where to start with Saab-Spyker CEO Victor Muller’s plans for world domination? Why not with the craziest part? Despite declining sales, the boutique supercar arm of Saab-Spyker claims to be developing a “Super Sport Utility Vehicle” in the mold of the D12 Peking-To-Paris showcar. Autoinformatief.com caused quite a stir when it revealed images of both a clay model and a test mule for this allegedly production-bound (yes, again) piece of madness. Moreover, news that Spyker won’t be invited to use Audi engines in forthcoming models caused at least one popular car blog to run the headline “Spyker’s New Ferrari-Powered SUV.” Because apparently Spyker can’t decide if it wants to use an AMG engine or a “supercharged Ferrari V8.” Does this give you a taste of just how goofy things have become ’round Saab-Spyker way? Well, it gets worse.
Ah, the tangled web of automotive high finance. Victor Muller, CEO and largest shareholder of Dutch automaker Spyker Cars said “oops” (or Dutch words to that effect) and reduced his voting interest is Spyker from 34.3 percent to 26.8 percent.
Why? It just dawned on Muller (or his CPAs) that with more than 30 percent he would have had to make a buyout offer for the rest of the shares. After having gobbled up Saab through complex dealings involving Russian money of dubious provenance, being forced to buy out the whole company because of some silly law wasn’t a high priority for Muller.
Rules are rules, so what’s a newly minted tycoon to do?
Over the daily Toyota runaway stories, it’s easy to forget the plight of GM and its children abroad. If you think that’s the idea, then you are a miserable conspiracy theorist, and you should stand in the corner. With that in mind, let’s check in with GM and its worldwide siblings to see how they are doing.
Vladimir Putin has announced that his government will spend $19.6b (584 billion rubles) on auto-sector stimulus, with spending planned on technology development, employee re-training, direct subsidies, and cash-for-clunker-style consumer stimulus. Another $20b of investment is expected from foreign automakers. These measures are aimed at a host of of ills besetting the Russian auto industry and market, ranging from what the government describes as a 4-7 year technological deficit, and a 50 percent drop in sales last year.
The unions have reasons for heightened annoyance. Insideline reports that Avtotor may buy the closed down Izhavto plant (Izhavto filed for bankruptcy in August 2009) in Izhevsk, Udmurt Republic, to build Hyundai and Kia vehicles. Avtotor is one of Russia’s largest assemblers of cars that come as kits. And why would that be of concern to Korea’s metal workers?
In the confusion of the recent Saab-Spyker deal, an interesting tidbit has flown beneath the radar until recently. Most industry news outlets [ ourselves included] had reported that Spyker’s backing from Russia’s Conversbank had given GM intellectual property nightmares, and that the deal had gone through with backing from other corners. Not so, it turns out. Bloomberg [via BusinessWeek] reports that Alexander Antonov confirms his bank supplied the first $25m in payments to GM. A strange turn of events, considering Russian backing for Magna’s failed Opel bid (and GM’s attendant IP paranoia) was said to have scuttled the deal (and that didn’t even have Convers’s bizarre Chechen blood feud connection).
Last night, our U.K. correspondent Cammy Corrigan reported that Toyota is seriously in trouble in Europe. The findings were based on a report in j ust-auto.com that carried the news that in Europe, sales of Toyota branded vehicles had dropped 20 percent in 2009, while Lexus branded vehicles dropped 40 percent.
Just a few days ago, Bloomberg reported: “Bayerische Motoren Werke AG and Daimler AG, the world’s top luxury-car makers, fell behind Toyota Motor Corp. in European deliveries in 2009 as government incentives failed to boost demand for their vehicles. BMW and Daimler, the maker of Mercedes-Benz, dropped to eighth and ninth place in Europe, while Toyota, including the Lexus brand, rose to seventh, according to figures released today by the Brussels-based European Automobile Manufacturers’ Association.” Eh? Or more polite: Mou ichido ossyatte kudasai. Excuse me? Say what?
China’s Geely has joined other manufacturers such as Chevrolet, Ford, Hyundai, Renault, Kia, and Toyota, and launched a production line in Russia. Geely opened a plant in Russia’s Caucasus republic of Karachay-Cherkessia, China’s state news agency Xinhua reports.
Remember the BRIC countries, saviors of the auto industry? Brazil, Russia, India, China. Brazil (+11.35 percent,) India (+18.7 percent) and especially China (+45 percent) performed as advertised. But Russia? Russia’s car 2009 car sales are such a disaster that BRIC will stay BIC for the foreseeable future.
Russia’s new car sales tanked by 49 percent in 2009 to just 1,465,917 units, according to data of the Association of European Businesses in the Russian Federation.
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