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Mon, Jun 25, 2007 - Page 11 News List

Billionaire mulls taking home Brazilian factory

AFP , CHONGQING, CHINA

Buy a factory in Brazil and move it to China.

It is a plan that is as simple as it is sweeping in its sheer scale and ambition, and if anyone can do it, it must be Chinese billionaire Yin Mingshan (尹明善) -- assuming, that is, the Brazilian government will let him.

"Brazil has told us we can buy the factory, but only if we agree not to move it," said 69-year-old Yin, the founder and chairman of Chongqing Lifan Holdings (重慶力帆控股), a giant in motorcycles now hoping to make money on cars too.

The plant in question is a US$500 million 50-50 joint venture between DaimlerChrysler AG and Bayerische Motoren Werke AG located in Campo Largo, southeastern Brazil, which produces 1.4 liter and 1.6 liter Tritec engines.

Lifan, headquartered in the bustling southwest Chinese metropolis of Chongqing, is among the buyers of the engines, installing them in the 520 compact sedan, which spearheads the company's foray into cars.

But far from just being a customer, Lifan has long expressed an interest in taking over the plant -- apparently without much happening so far.

However, a final decision could be approaching fast, as the joint venture contract between Chrysler and BMW will expire at the end of this month, forcing a decision on what happens next.

The plant stopped production this month, with no announcement made on when output might resume, while the 382 workers were waiting at home, the Brazilian daily O Estado de Sao Paulo reported.

jobs

Yin said he could only speculate about the reasons why Brazil was unwilling to let the deal go ahead, but suggested the loss of jobs was the top concern.

The joint venture partners were non-committal about the future of the Brazilian plant.

"We are exploring future options for the Tritec joint venture, but it is premature to discuss at this point," said Trevor Hale, a DaimlerChrysler spokesman. "It is possible that the current arrangements could be extended beyond the end of the current contract."

Permission to move the plant is likely to be essential to Lifan's decision on whether or not to seek a deal, analysts said.

"If they don't relocate the factory, but ship the completed engines to China, the costs will be much higher," said Jia Xinguang, a Beijing-based analyst with China Automotive Industry Consulting and Development Corp.

not unprecedented

Moving entire factories thousands of kilometers across borders is a feat seen before in history, but usually it is the kind of activity that conquering armies tend to engage in.

After the Allied victory over Germany in 1945, the Soviet military dismantled complete Nazi factories and transported them home as a form of war reparation.

In the 1960s, China itself moved large sections of its heavy industry to the interior, in preparation for what Beijing considered inevitable war with the US or the Soviet Union.

Times have changed and now the key purpose is technology transfer, quite literally.

In a signal of the importance the Chinese government attaches to the deal, talks with Brazil have been carried out not just by Lifan executives but by Chinese officials as well.

"We haven't talked about a price," Yin said. "But since the factory is no longer brand new, we expect to have to pay less than the amount that was originally invested by the two joint venture partners."

Financing the deal would not be a problem, he argued, suggesting that bank credit would be the most likely funding source.

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