Business World

China’s Geely making $9-billion Daimler bet against ‘tech’ invaders


BEIJING/FRANKFURT — Chinese car maker Geely has built up an almost 10% stake in Daimler in a $9-billion bet by its chairman that he can access the MercedesBe­nz owner’s technology in the growing battle for the future of automotive­s.

The purchase by Li Shufu, Geely’s founder and main owner, means China’s largest privately owned automaker is now the biggest shareholde­r in Germany’s Daimler.

Geely said on Saturday there were no plans “for the time being” to raise the stake further. Instead, it will seek to forge an alliance with Daimler, which is developing electric and self-driving vehicles, to respond to the challenge from new competitor­s such as Tesla, Google and Uber.

“No current car industry player is likely to win this battle against the invaders from outside without friends. To achieve and assert technologi­cal leadership, one has to adapt a new way of thinking in terms of sharing and combining strength. My investment in Daimler reflects this vision,” Li said.

“Daimler is pleased to announce that with Li Shufu it could win another long-term orientated shareholde­r, which is convinced by Daimler’s innovation strength, strategy and future potential,” the German company said in a statement.

Geely officials plan to travel to Stuttgart to meet Daimler executives early next week and also hope to meet top German government officials in Berlin, two sources familiar with the matter told Reuters.

The Chinese firm plans to use the meetings to underline that it intends to be a supportive longterm investor, they said.

Daimler had no immediate comment on any meetings. Geely and the German economy ministry declined to comment.

In November, Geely asked Daimler to issue new shares so it could buy a stake, as a way to access Mercedes- Benz technology for electric cars and trucks, including battery technology, to help Geely comply with a Chinese crackdown on pollution.

But the German company turned down the offer saying it did not want to dilute existing shareholde­rs, sources at the time told Reuters.

Li changed tactics, and quietly amassed a stake of 9.69% worth $9 billion at Daimler’s current share price.

The sources said former Morgan Stanley Germany CEO Dirk Notheis was the architect of amassing the Daimler stake, working with former Morgan Stanley China executive Yi Bao.

Notheis declined to comment, while Bao was not reachable.

Only two or three auto manufactur­ers will likely survive, a source familiar with Li’s thinking told Reuters, prompting Geely to seek access to car makers with a technologi­cal edge.

Daimler is also the only one of Germany’s three car makers not to be controlled by a family. Volkswagen is majority-owned by the Porsche-Piech clan, while BMW is 47% owned by Susanne Klatten, Germany’s richest woman, and her brother Stefan Quandt.

Geely’s move poses a challenge to the German car maker, since Mercedes- Benz already has an industrial alliance to develop cars and trucks with Renault-Nissan, which owns a 3.1% stake in Daimler, and has announced plans to build electric cars with existing Chinese joint- venture partner BAIC Motor Corp.

Zhejiang Geely Holding owns Volvo Cars, LEVC, the maker of London’s black cabs, and last year took a majority stake in sports car maker Lotus, a 49.9% stake in Malaysian automaker Proton, a $3.3-billion stake in Volvo Trucks and control of flying car start-up Terrafugia.

Geely sees potential in Daimler because it is developing high- speed connectivi­ty for autonomous cars at a time when Li believes satellite-based Internet connection­s could become more important, the source familiar with his thinking said.

The source said Daimler and Geely had not held concrete talks about how to structure a potential joint venture, adding: “You know we have to become a stakeholde­r in order to engage.”

Swedish truck maker AB Volvo, one of Geely’s other investment­s, has objected to the Chinese firm’s stake-building in Daimler, citing anti- trust concerns, the source added.

“We will protect interests of both companies by abiding laws in the country and the company’s governance structure. We are not seeking to have a controllin­g power in Daimler,” the source added. •

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