Beijing Autos Mulls Bid For Opel Or Saab

SHANGHAI (AP) -- Beijing Automobile Industries Holding Co., China's fifth-largest carmaker, is maneuvering to acquire General Motors Corp.'s Opel or Saab units if other potential deals fall through, reports said Wednesday.

A group of Beijing Autos executives is in Europe for talks on a possible acquisition, the state-run newspaper China Business News and other reports said.

Calls to Beijing Auto's public relations office rang unanswered Wednesday, and other staff contacted by phone said they could not comment.

Beijing Autos is among several Chinese companies thought to be interested in acquiring one of the European units of either GM or Ford Motor Co., which is seeking to sell Sweden-based Volvo Cars.

Beijing, a partner with Hyundai Motor Co. and Daimler AG, is not a front-runner in the bidding for either GM's German subsidiary Adam Opel GmbH or its Swedish unit, Saab Cars. But it would be willing to step in, and has the funds to do so, China Business News said, citing unnamed company sources.

Beijing Autos had aimed for Opel, but GM has set a deal to turn Opel over to Canadian auto parts company Magna International Inc., with Russian backing.

Three bidders reportedly are in the lead to buy Saab: Koenigsegg, a Swedish sports car maker; The Renco Group Inc., a private equity firm; and Merbanco Inc., a Wyoming-based group of investors.

In recent months Chinese automakers have been named as potential bidders for various foreign car companies. So far, the only deal announced has been GM's planned sale of its Hummer brand to Sichuan Tengzhong Heavy Industrial Machinery Co., a little-known Chinese truck and equipment maker.

Chinese analysts and the state-controlled media question whether that deal will actually go through.

"Buying a fuel-hungry and high-emission brand is directly against the current trend of energy saving and emission reduction," the official Xinhua News Agency cited Lu Zhongyuan, a senior official at the Cabinet-affiliated Development Research Center, as saying Wednesday.

"If it really takes this step to buy (Hummer), relevant departments should be strict and cautious with the approval, or reject the application if necessary," Lu said, according to the report.

Beijing Autos is more likely to have lined up official support for any purchase it might make. Based in the Chinese capital, it reported 70.3 billion yuan ($10.3 billion) in sales of 780,000 units last year, state media reports say.

The company could see an overseas acquisition as a way to make headway against bigger rivals such as GM and Volkswagen AG partner Shanghai Automotive Industrial Corp.

"Beijing Automobile needs to grow, to develop, to seize opportunities along with the challenges, even if we cannot escape the economic crisis," Beijing Autos chairman Xu Heyi told reporters during the recent Shanghai Auto Show. "But we do need help from the government," he said.

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