For several years, pundits have been predicting a Chinese carmaker would take a stake in a mainstream western carmaker. The rumours have so far come to nothing, but with General Motors now desperate to sell German marque Opel, Beijing Automotive Industry Corp believes it has a decent chance of walking away with this somewhat tarnished prize.
According to the Financial Times, BAIC sent a letter expressing an interest in acquiring a stake in Opel to the investment bank handling the sale, although the letter arrived a day after the deadline for bids.
Fiat, Magna of Canada and Brussels-listed RHJ International have also entered bids and have a better chance. But given the desperate state of of GM's finances, BAIC's best option, if it really is interested in acquiring a stake in Opel, would be to make it an offer it cannot refuse — GM is seeking about €650m.
BAIC specialises in commercial vehicles but also manufactures Hyundai cars in a JV with the Korean carmaker. It sold 250,000 vehicles in the first quarter of this year, making it the fifth largest Chinese automaker.
Chinese carmakers profess to be uninterested in making or selling cars in the mature markets of the west, arguing that they have enough on their plate trying to keep up with domestic demand. Earlier this year, Geely was rumoured to be interested in buying Saab or Volvo, but the Chinese carmaker denied the story.
The one exception has been the UK's MG Rover, which was sold to Nanjing Automotive in 2005 with SAIC acquired rights to two of its designs. Nanjing Automotive, now part of SAIC, has restarted MG sports car production at the Longbridge factory in the UK, but it is very much a niche operation.
Despite the desperate straits of much of the traditional car industry, Chinese carmarkers are biding their time and more interested in buying the west's shiny new technology rather than its tarnished marques.
For example, Geely recently purchased Australia's Drivetrain Systems International. Like a lot of OEM suppliers, DSI has been going through particularly tough times and filed for bankruptcy protection.
DSI produces drivetrains for Ford, Chrysler and Ssangyong, in RWD and AWD formats.
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