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Geely in spotlight at Geneva Motor Show, despite not exhibiting

Acquisition of majority stake in Daimler puts focus on Chinese carmaker

Dieter Zetsche, chairman of the board at Daimler and director of Mercedes-Benz Cars, unveils the Mercedes-AMG GT 4-Door Coupe at the Geneva Motor Show.   © AP

GENEVA -- The Geneva International Motor Show got underway on Tuesday, with the global auto industry's attention focused on Zhejiang Geely Holding Group, despite the fact that the Chinese company was not exhibiting a single model.

Geely has been the subject of attention since its chairman Li Shufu's acquisition of a nearly 10% equity stake in German automaker Daimler in February. Geely also took over Sweden's Volvo Cars in 2010.

"I consider the whole situation as a positive situation which potentially gives us more options," said Daimler CEO Dieter Zetsche, before suggesting that there may be scope for future cooperation.

Zetsche said he had met with Li last week. "We exchanged views about the auto industry today, tomorrow, in the middle and long term, about potential competitors from outside of the industry and potential benefits in pursuing more future orienting topics, potentially together."

"It's too early to tell what could be," Zetsche said in reference to collaborative projects. However, when asked about the possibility of joint production and using the same chassis to cut costs, he was more candid. "I don't consider that very likely."

"The discussion we had was less about pistons and rims and more about [Tesla CEO] Elon Musk sending satellites into orbit in order to set up future mobility systems."

This was Li and Zetsche's second meeting. During the first, roughly one year ago, Li mentioned his intention to invest in Daimler and called on the German carmaker to cooperate with Volvo Cars.

Zetsche reportedly turned down the request. With Li's investment now complete, he may be hoping Zetsche will reconsider.

Daimler, however, already has a successful joint venture with Chinese automaker Beijing Automobile Works.

"We made it clear, consistently and early on, that we have a good partnership with whom we're very successful in China so we are very open to any consideration for the future as long as our Chinese partner is fine with that," Zetsche said.

Hakan Samuelsson, president of Volvo Cars, where Li serves as chairman, said, "I could say all experience with Geely as an owner is very positive."

Volvo Car Group CEO Hakan Samuelsson makes a presentation at the Geneva Motor Show on Mar. 6.   © Reuters

The Swedish automaker has managed to raise the profile of its vehicles by sharing chassis and their costs with Geely. The company's compact SUV XC40 won the 2018 European Car of the Year award.

The Volvo Cars president also showed an openness to further collaboration.

"We are ready to cooperate with anybody if it's [in] our interest," said Samuelsson. "That means areas such as batteries could be something where we would need partnerships in the future. We would not exclude anybody who is interested to talk." 

Geely also reportedly approached Fiat Chrysler Automobiles last summer. "Geely showed up, and we had a number of meetings," said the group's CEO Sergio Marchionne. It was a "pleasant exchange, but nothing was concluded," he added.

"I'm not negative on the prospects of Chinese investors walking in, but do you think I should have a Chinese investor?" Marchionne asked reporters. "I don't think so," he said.

A number of Western automakers have come to depend on China, the world's largest car market. Chinese manufacturers, meanwhile, have taken the opportunity to absorb skills and technologies from foreign players.

Nikkei assistant writer Kyra Jaeger and staff writer Tallulah Lutkin contributed to this report.

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