Is China Merging Its “First” and “Second” Auto Works Into A Car Kaiju?

Preparing for the storm?

Preparing for the storm?

Consolidation has been the law of the auto industry ever since Ford’s assembly lines unlocked the brutal logic of scale, but fears that the US and Chinese markets may be cooling have automakers even more anxious to grab quick growth by merging. Last week, Fiat Chrysler Automobiles CEO Sergio Marchionne gave voice to the industry’s building anxiety by all but apologizing for his industry’s low rate of return on capital and threatening to explore mergers with Silicon Valley firms if no automaker wanted to acquire it. Marchionne’s position may be more desperate than some of his better-established competitors, but his basic logic is resounding across the auto industry.
When trading in shares of the Chinese automakers First Auto Works and Dongfeng (known until 1992 as “Second Auto Works”) were halted this week, the market’s initial read was that a merger between two of China’s biggest automakers was in the works. Dongfeng issued a swift denial of any merger plans but the Chinese state council shook up leadership at the two state-owned automakers, replacing the chairman at each with a man who had previously served at the other. With its automakers outmatched even in their home market, China appears to be pushing two of its “big four” manufacturers closer in hopes of creating a national champion with the scale to take on the global majors.

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