China’s Great Wall eyes Jeep brand, but Fiat Chrysler denies being approached

Negotiations would begin if Fiat Chrysler were to give Great Wall a positive response about a potential transaction

PUBLISHED : Monday, 21 August, 2017, 9:14pm
UPDATED : Monday, 21 August, 2017, 10:44pm

Great Wall Motor, China’s largest maker of sports utility vehicles has said that it was interested in acquiring the Jeep brand from Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (FCA), though the Italian-US company has denied that it has received an approach.

China media reports emerged on Monday afternoon that Great Wall was considering a bid for Jeep, the most profitable part of FCA.

Great Wall board secretary Xu Hui told the South China Morning Post on Monday evening that the company was in the process of “verifying the details” before it could publish an official statement about the issue.

He did not deny Great Wall’s offer to FCA for the Jeep brand.

Wang Fengying, president of Great Wall, wrote in an email to Automotive News on Monday that the Chinese SUV maker had expressed its interest in buying Jeep, but it was awaiting a response from FCA.

Negotiations would begin if FCA were to give Great Wall a positive response about a potential transaction, according to a source with knowledge of the Chinese auto maker’s thinking.

A takeover of Jeep is an important part of Great Wall’s globalisation plan as it aims to become a world leader in the SUV segment, the source said.

Great Wall has appointed an international advisor to help it push ahead with the offer, the source added.

A Great Wall spokesman told Reuters that the Chinese SUV maker was considering acquiring FCA in its entirety, not just Jeep.

Wei Jianjun, chairman of Great Wall, told the Post in an interview early this year that the company was adamant in executing its go-global strategy with plans to set up production facilities in North America.

Great Wall plans major foray into North America with mid-size SUV starting at just US$12,870

However, FCA denied that any approach had been made.

“In response to market rumours regarding a potential interest of Great Wall Motor in the Jeep brand, Fiat Chrysler Automobiles confirmed that it has not been approached by Great Wall Motor in connection with the Jeep brand or any other matter relating to its business,” the company said in a statement.

In a filing to Shanghai’s stock exchange late on Monday, the Great Wall said it had requested that trading of its shares be suspended from August 22 (Tuesday), pending a verification of the content of certain media reports to ensure fair disclosure of information, protection of investors’ interests and avoidance of share price volatility.

Jeep would be a good fit for Great Wall, which also specialises in SUVs.

In the first half of 2017, Great Wall sold 398,000 SUVs, accounting for 86 per cent of the company’s total sales.

This proportion is unlikely to change, as the company is relying on its premium SUV brand WEY, whose first design the VV7 was launched in the first half, to be among its growth drivers for the rest of the year.

Last month, Great Wall reported, a 49 per cent fall in net profit for the first half of this year, which analysts attributed to rising expenses and consumer price deflation.

Nonetheless, analysts were also optimistic about the company’s prospects.

“GWM still maintains strong momentum in the domestic SUV market,” said Zhang Jing, a research analyst at Philip Securities in a note.

Zhang said that the company’s profitability was expected to increase again in the second half of the year

FCA sold 1.4 million vehicles under the Jeep brand in 2016.

“Great Wall wants to be the number one SUV maker in the world, and they can achieve that goal that much faster if they buy Jeep” Yale Zhang of Shanghai-based consultancy China Automotive Foresights, told the Financial Times.

Great Wall is not the first Chinese automaker to look internationally. In 2010, rival Geely acquired Volvo from Ford, and this year announced that it would take a controlling stake in Malaysian company Proton.

Fiat Chrysler CEO Sergio Marchionne has long been looking to sell the company. In April, at the Geneva auto-show, he floated the idea that Volkswagen might be interested in a merger, and said that he had also approached General Motors.