DealZone

Ford picks Geely… for now

Whatever reservations Ford may have had about selling Volvo to Geely and potentially exposing all of its competitive secrets to pirate-infested Chinese markets, they appear to have been laid to rest … for now.

The U.S. automaker named a Geely-led consortium as preferred bidder for the money-losing Swedish unit, estimated to be worth about $2 billion. The news is conspicuously coincidental — as many such stories are — with intensely routine negotiations in Hangzhou between top trade officials of the two countries. Naturally, Ford left open the possibility that it could back out of the deal, saying more detailed talks were needed.

It’s been nearly a year since Ford began efforts to sell Volvo, and only a week ago a source was telling us that concerns about intellectual property rights were threatening to scupper the deal. That followed news of a former Ford engineer’s arrest in the United States on charges of stealing trade secrets from Ford and using them to try to get work with Chinese auto makers. Good thing Volvo is such a safe brand; even with a preferred bidder in place, this asset sale could prove to be a wild ride.

Magnum’s Opel

General Motors may soon get the long-delayed green light to sign over carmaker Opel to Canada’s Magna. EU antitrust regulators have no plans to block Magna’s acquisition of GM’s European arm, a European Commission spokesman said in Brussels, easing fears the transaction could run out of gas in debate over German state aid to the mostly German-staffed company.

Magna hopes to conclude the deal within weeks of signing a contract. That should be that, right? Well, hardly. For one thing, Spanish workers at Opel’s plant at Figueruelas have voted to strike in protest at cuts included in the Magna package. And European politicians say GM and the Opel Trust should have the option of reopening the bidding process.

But the jilted other bidder, RHJ, says it is no longer interested in doing a deal, so going back to the auction block is probably a nonstarter. And with European auto titan Volkswagen saying sales will likely stay stalled next year, the political will to get a deal done is about all Opel has going for it right now. The company is poised to run out of cash by mid-January.

Deals du Jour

The auto industry shake up looks set to accelerate.

Germany’s Volkswagen is exploring a deal to cooperate with Japan’s Suzuki Motor to boost its presence in ultra-small cars, a source tells Reuters. The news sent Suzuki sahres racing to a 10-month high.

Cooperation with Suzuki, which dominates Japan’s 660cc minivehicle market along with Toyota’s Daihatsu, could yield a new model for VV below its upcoming “New Small Family” range of small cars, the source said.

Deal news reported by other media on Friday included:

Four savings banks in Spain’s Catalonia region are in advanced talks to create what would be the country’s eighth-largest savings bank, La Vanguardia newspaper reported. Unlisted savings banks Sabadell, Terrassa and Manlleu are discussing a merger which Caixa Manresa could also join, it said. For the Reuters strory click here.

Auto insurer launches virtual toolbox

nationwide-mobile-screenshot-1Auto insurer Nationwide has joined businesses such as Kraft Foods, eBay and Amazon.com in developing applications that customers can access on Apple’s popular iPhone.

While Kraft’s iFood Assistant offers recipes and shopping lists for consumers, Nationwide’s application gives policyholders instant tools to help deal with some of the calls and paperwork that follow a vehicle bust-up, including access to tow truck service, and getting a claim started.

Nationwide says it is the first insurer to launch such an application, or “app” as iPhone tools are more often referred to.