Daimler considers legal split in strategic overhaul

FRANKFURT (Reuters) - Daimler may split parts of its business into separate legal entities in an overhaul, its Chief Executive Dieter Zetsche said, although the car and truck maker ruled out major divestments for now.

News of Daimler's DAIGn.DE strategic review spurred speculation on Wednesday about a break-up of the maker of Mercedes-Benz cars, trucks, buses and vans as it seeks to fund multi-billion euro autonomous and electric car investments.

“We recommend taking this communication very seriously,” analysts at Evercore ISI said in a note.

Separating Daimler’s divisions could unlock value, with trucks and buses on their own worth 31 billion euros ($36 billion), analysts at Evercore ISI said in a note. The German company’s total market capitalization is around 65.25 billion euros, according to Thomson Reuters data.

Chief Financial Officer Bodo Uebber said Daimler does not intend to divest business divisions, but left open the question about a partial listing of some businesses.

“We have not decided to set up new legal structures within our group. We have decided to analyze this possibility. We had a small group in our company which was weighing this idea,” Zetsche said in a call on second-quarter results.

Internal deliberations within Daimler had now reached a stage where markets needed to be informed, he added.

News of the strategy review comes as the auto industry faces a barrage of criticism over diesel pollution and allegations about anti-competitive behavior.

“The automotive industry is currently making headlines, and not good ones,” Zetsche conceded.

FILE PHOTO: The Mercedes-Benz logo is seen before the company's annual news conference in Stuttgart, Germany, February 4, 2016. REUTERS/Michaela Rehle/File Photo

German magazine Der Spiegel reported on Friday that German carmakers Daimler, BMW BMWG.DE, VW VOWG_p.DE, Porsche and Audi NSUG.DE held meetings to discuss suppliers, prices and standards to the disadvantage of foreign carmakers.

The European Commission said it was investigating the matter, although Daimler pointed out it was not subject to a formal probe. Companies found guilty of breaching EU cartel rules face fines of as much as 10 percent of their global turnover unless they gain whistle-blower immunity.

In a call with journalists Zetsche declined to comment on whether German carmakers had colluded.

“We are well advised not to participate in speculation,” Zetsche said, refusing to comment further.

Asked whether such allegations could result in consequences for cooperation deals, such as a procurement agreement with BMW BMWG.DE, Zetsche said: "Since we obviously operated within the law, none."

Daimler's and Volkswagen's VOWG_p.DE supervisory boards met on Wednesday to discuss the allegations.


Second-quarter results showed Daimler’s star performer remained its luxury cars division which helped push up quarterly operating profit by 15 percent, slightly below consensus.

Mercedes-Benz sold 595,200 cars thanks to a 28 percent rise in Chinese demand. Margins improved to 10.2 percent from 6.4 percent in the year-earlier period, mainly due to sales of a new E-Class limousine.

Daimler said it expects strong sales in China in the second half, after its overall earnings before interest and tax (EBIT) rose to 3.74 billion euros in the second quarter, below the average forecast of 3.81 billion euros in a Reuters poll.

The Stuttgart-based company also lifted the outlook for its trucks and vans divisions, saying it now expected EBIT to reach prior-year levels for both.

Reporting by Edward Taylor; Additional reporting by Maria Sheahan; Editing by Victoria Bryan/Susan Thomas/Alexander Smith