Kuka's CEO says Chinese bidder could be a growth driver

AUGSBURG, Germany (Reuters) - The chief executive of German industrial robot maker Kuka KU2G.DE said on Friday he welcomed an impending 4.5 billion- euro ($5 bln) takeover bid from Chinese home appliance maker Midea 000333.SZ.

Products of Midea are seen at a shop in Beijing, China, May 18, 2016. REUTERS/Kim Kyung-Hoon

“We have set ourselves a goal of reaching a billion euros in sales by 2020. A partner who supports this strategy and provides us with better market access could be a considerable growth driver for Kuka,” Till Reuter told shareholders.

Asked at Kuka’s annual meeting whether another prospective buyer might emerge with an alternative offer, Reuter said: “We have not actively looked for a partner until now, so the question of a white knight does not arise.”

Kuka is the latest and biggest German industrial technology group to be targeted by Chinese buyers as the world’s second-largest economy makes the transition from a low-cost factory location into a high-tech industrial hub.

China is the world’s biggest market for industrial robots and robot sales in China rose 16 percent last year, driving global sales up 8 percent.

Government sources have said Berlin will examine how critical Kuka’s technology is for the digitization of industry - one of the main economic drives of the present government.

However, Chancellor Angela Merkel is loath to meddle in takeovers, and Berlin has indicated the government will not intervene to stop the transfer of Kuka and its technology to Chinese ownership.

German industrial giant Siemens SIEGn.DE considered a counterbid for Kuka but quickly dismissed the idea as too expensive, according to sources familiar with the matter.

Kuka’s management and supervisory boards have not yet made official recommendations to shareholders about the Midea bid. Midea made an offer on May 18 but has not yet launched its bid.

Engineering firm Voith and billionaire Friedhelm Loh, Kuka’s two biggest shareholders, have not indicated whether they will accept the offer.

Voith’s Chief Executive Hubert Lienhard was at the shareholder meeting but did not speak, while Loh asked to be excused due to a conflicting appointment. Both are members of Kuka’s supervisory board.

Reporting by Jens Hack; Writing by Georgina Prodhan; Editing by Maria Sheahan and Susan Fenton