| SHANGHAI/HONG KONG
SHANGHAI/HONG KONG China's Geely Automotive said on Wednesday its parent wants to bid for Ford's Volvo Car Corp -- the latest Chinese automaker to chase a foreign brand in a global industry overhaul.
A deal for Volvo, which media have valued at close to $2 billion, would boost the profile of Geely, a small, home-grown car maker, and give it access to Volvo technology it needs to upgrade its cars.
But some analysts doubted China's 10th-largest vehicle maker could manage an international brand.
Geely's privately held parent, Geely Holding Group Co, would make any bid in conjunction with a government-backed investor, CEO Gui Shengyue told Reuters by telephone.
"I believe if Volvo is for sale and Ford has a global announcement, then our parent will participate," Gui said. "It is interested in Volvo's sedan business and not trucks."
Gui declined to put a value on a possible bid, but said Geely Holding was waiting for Ford to formally put Volvo up for sale.
Rather than taking a stake in Volvo, Geely Holding would seek full ownership, Gui said, adding that Ford will make a decision on whether to sell Volvo within a month.
RISK VS OPPORTUNITY
"On the assumption that the parent successfully acquires Volvo, it will fine tune the product line and technology until Volvo becomes profitable, and then inject the assets into the listed company," said Vivien Chan, auto analyst with Sinopac Securities Corp.
Geely has been upgrading its models to tap China's increasingly affluent drivers.
"It's definitely a long-term positive for the stock, but in the short term there is no earnings impact from the news," Chan said.
Beijing Automotive Industry Holding Corp (BAIC) and a mainly Swedish consortium including Dagens Industri and Konsortium Jakob AB had shown interest in Volvo, media reports have said, but Geely is the first confirmed bidder.
Some analysts questioned whether the privately-owned Chinese firm could manage an international brand.
"It's a risky move even though it may help raise Geely's profile eventually," said Ji Junfeng from Changjiang Securities.
"I'm not sure how Geely can turn around a brand like Volvo, but maybe we should not underestimate the ability of privately owned car makers.
"They've been growing very fast on their own with little help from the government," he said.
Geely shares, which have trebled in the past year, rose as much as 3.9 percent on Thursday, buoyed also by a 145 percent jump in first-half profit.
The stock closed up 1.9 percent at HK$2.11.
Gui said second-half results should be better than those first-half numbers, given good July-August sales.
Major Chinese automakers, including BAIC, have attempted overseas acquisitions in recent years with mixed results. Chinese names are increasingly linked to many of the sector's potential M&A deals.
"Chinese automakers are not short of capacity or equipment, so an acquisition is meaningless for us if we cannot fully acquire intellectual property rights," said BAIC Chairman Xu Heyi.
China has found it tough going to buy national brands overseas, and there have been media reports of Swedish opposition to selling Volvo to the Chinese.
In June, global miner Rio Tinto ditched a planned $19.5 billion tie-up with state-owned Chinalco amid vocal criticism about China buying up Australia's natural resources.
In 2005, U.S. political opposition scuppered offshore oil specialist CNOOC's bid for California rival Unocal, and Minmetals failed in a bid for a Canadian nickel miner, partly due to labor concerns over China's human rights record.
"Currently, Chinese companies are not welcome in global acquisitions partly due to political reasons, as some people discriminate against us because China is a socialist country led by the Communist Party," Xu said.
(Additional reporting by Jacqueline Wong, Parvathy Ullatil and Samuel Shen)
(Editing by Ian Geoghegan)