Zhejiang Geely Holding sealed a $1.8-billion deal on Sunday to buy Volvo Cars, ending more than a decade under the ownership of Ford Motor Co which saw the up-market Swedish carmaker become a loss-making thorn in the side of the US giant, burdened with its own woes.
Geely chairman Li Shufu said he saw huge untapped potential for Volvo in international markets and especially in China, which has not only the biggest but also one of the fastest growing car markets in the world.
“I see Volvo as a tiger. (The) tiger belongs to a forest, it can’t be found in a zoo … We need to liberate this tiger,” he told a press conference after the deal was inked at Volvo Cars headquarters in Gothenburg, southern Sweden.
“The tiger has a heart and it lies in Sweden, (and) in Belgium but it’s power should be projected all over the world.
“I see China as one of the markets where Volvo can show it has the opportunity to liberate itself,” he said.
In the face of concerns that the Chinese group would slash jobs in Sweden, Geely said that it would keep Volvo Cars plants in Sweden and Belgium and was considering opening factories in China for the local market.
Geely said that it had not only secured financing for the $1.8 billion it was paying, but was also eager to keep the struggling Swedish carmaker in operation.
It also said that the deal, which Ford initially agreed to in December, included agreements on intellectual property rights as well as supply and research and development arrangements between Volvo Cars, Geely and Ford.
The US group bought Volvo Cars, which is known for its sturdy, family-friendly cars, in 1999 for $6.4 billion as part of an international push into the premium market, that eventually cost Ford dearly.
Ford Chief financial officer Lewis Booth told journalists that his company got a “fair price and “we’re very happy with the deal.”
For Geely, which started out as a refrigerator parts maker, the deal marks a new chapter in its international expansion after two of its Chinese rivals failed to take over Western brands, Hummer of the United States and Saab of Sweden.
The deal had initially caused consternation among unions at Volvo Cars, which employs around 22,000 people worldwide, including 16,000 in Sweden.
Unions originally opposed the deal on grounds that it was vague on expansion plans and possible layoffs amid fears Geely would not provide financing for daily operations or future investments.
But on Saturday they pronounced themselves satisfied.
In addition to preserving Volvo Cars’ factories in Sweden and Belgium, Geely said that the Swedish company would be run as a separate company with its headquarters in Gothenburg.
“Today I am reassuring that Geely is determined to protect and nurture everything that is great about Volvo. Volvo is Volvo and Geely is Geely,” said Li, who is also the Chinese company’s founder.
“Volvo will be run by Volvo management, and be strategically independent. They are distinct companies. Volvo is a Swedish business with a strong Scandinavian heritage,” he said.
With a workforce of 12,000 people, including 1,600 engineers, the Geely group has grown into one of China’s largest private carmakers since it launched its auto manufacturing business only in 1997.
It operates six car assembly and power-train manufacturing plants across China with a combined production capacity of 300,000 cars per year. The firm also owns nearly 500 dealerships and 600 service stations in the country.
Geely has an overseas sales and service network of nearly 300 outlets and runs plants in several foreign countries including Ukraine, Russia and Indonesia. Overseas sales have however totalled less than 200,000 units so far.