From May to August last year, Li Shufu – Chinese billionaire, and founder and chairman of Zhejiang Geely Holding Group Co., Ltd – reportedly met with Fiat Chrysler Automobiles’ controlling shareholder to hold talks that could have dramatically shifted the automotive landscape as we know it.
Li Shufu, according to Automotive News‘ sources, was attempting to purchase a controlling stake in Fiat Chrysler from Exor N.V. – an Italian investment company that, as of earlier this year, owned 29 percent of FCA’s shares and 42 percent voting rights. Geely already owns Swedish automaker Volvo Cars, through which the holding company co-developed the Lynk & Co. brand, and has a controlling stake in Lotus Cars. Last month, Geely’s owner and chairman announced he’d acquired a 9.7-percent stake in Chrysler’s old partner, Daimler AG.
Were Li Shufu to have been successful in his attempts to acquire Fiat Chrysler Automobiles, Geely would have had access to the automaker’s Jeep SUV brand – a valuable commodity as more and more of the Western world moves out of cars and into bigger, higher-riding vehicles. It would have taken control of FCA’s storied, sporty Alfa Romeo and Maserati brands, too, granting the Chinese company more reach in the premium car market. And, as Automotive News reports, the Chinese company would have instantly added some 4.7 million annual sales in more than 150 markets to its tally.
But Li’s talks did not succeed. Geely’s initial offer put Fiat Chrysler Automobiles’ value at $20 billion, encompassing both the purchase of Exor’s stake, and a public tender for the 71 percent of shares held by other investors. That offer was turned down, so Li came back with an offer valued at $22 billion, which was also rebuffed.
There are two different accounts as to why the latter offer was not accepted, according to Automotive News. One of the publication’s sources says the offer was deemed to low, as Exor felt it could have gotten more by breaking FCA up – for instance, selling Jeep and Ram as one unit, and Alfa Romeo and Maserati as another, etc. The other source said Fiat Chrysler was open to the $22-billion offer so long as Alfa Romeo and Maserati were excluded from the deal, which Geely didn’t like.
Whatever the reason, Geely did not acquire Fiat Chrysler Automobiles, and the automaker remains in the care of Italy’s Exor N.V. – at least for now. FCA CEO Sergio Marchionne, who’s spoken frequently on the importance of merging with another automaker, may not get his wish before his impending retirement.