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DaimlerChrysler Takes the Reins at Mitsubishi

DaimlerChrysler and Mitsubishi Motors agreed to form an alliance on August 1 of last year.

With its U.S. business still struggling, DaimlerChrysler AG is laying the groundwork for a full takeover of Japan's Mitsubishi as part of its ambition to build a true global concern.

Mitsubishi Motors Corp. (MMC), in which the German-U.S. car giant holds a 37% stake, said Wednesday that the German Rolf Eckrodt has been appointed its new chief executive.

Eckrodt was brought in from DaimlerChrysler in 2001 but has so far only been in charge of Mitsubishi's passenger car division. As CEO he will also oversee the truck and bus operations. DaimlerChrysler Chief Executive Jürgen Schrempp flew to Tokyo especially to finalize the decision.

Officially, DaimlerChrysler and MMC are presenting the change in leadership as an initiative by MMC's outgoing president Takashi Sonobe. But people close to MMC in Tokyo said that the move was an indication of DaimlerChrysler's impatience with the pace of restructuring at the Japanese group. People close to DaimlerChrysler said the group had pushed for the change in leadership at MMC to be able to react quicker to market changes.

Close integration of U.S. arm Chrysler with the Japanese group is a key component of Schrempp's vision of a global concern.

DaimlerChrysler despatched some 40 managers to MMC and a further two top executives left for Tokyo in the last two weeks to closely examine the group's commercial-vehicles business. They will also look at closer cooperation in development, procurement and financial services.

Altogether, the steps are widely seen as an indication that DaimlerChrysler is preparing for a full takeover of Mitsubishi.

DaimlerChrysler spokesman Hartmut Schick stressed that his group was under no time pressure to act. He said that once MMC was in good condition, DaimlerChrysler would be ready to take a majority stake.

DaimlerChrysler has the option to increase its stake to up to 100% after October 2003. Analysts took a relaxed view of DaimlerChrysler's latest maneuvering ? provided restructuring at MMC proves successful. "If MMC is on a sound footing in two to three years from now, there are no arguments against a takeover," said Christian Breitsprecher at Deutsche Bank.

Stefan Augustin at Bankhaus Delbrück pointed out that MMC, with a market capitalization of 4.5 billion euro, would not be a big acquisition for DaimlerChrysler. But the Japanese company's huge debt mountain of 13 billion euro could prove an obstacle, he said.