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Geely's Li raises Daimler stake in tech fight against new rivals

Chinese carmaker Geely has built up an almost 10 percent stake in Daimler in a US$9 billion bet by its chairman that he can access the Mercedes-Benz owner's technology.

Chinese carmaker Geely has built up an almost 10 percent stake in Daimler in a US$9 billion bet by its chairman that he can access the Mercedes-Benz owner’s technology in the growing battle for the future of automotives.

The purchase by Li Shufu, Geely’s founder and main owner, means China’s largest privately-owned automaker is now the biggest shareholder in Germany’s Daimler.

Geely said on Saturday there were no plans “for the time being” to raise the stake further. Instead, it will seek to forge an alliance with Daimler, which is developing electric and self-driving vehicles, to respond to the challenge from new competitors such as Tesla, Google and Uber.

“No current car industry player is likely to win this battle against the invaders from outside without friends. To achieve and assert technological leadership, one has to adapt a new way of thinking in terms of sharing and combining strength. My investment in Daimler reflects this vision,” Li said.

“Daimler is pleased to announce that with Li Shufu it could win another long-term orientated shareholder, which is convinced by Daimler’s innovation strength, strategy and future potential,” the German firm said in a statement.

Geely officials plan to travel to Stuttgart to meet Daimler executives this week and also hope to meet top German government officials in Berlin, sources said, adding the Chinese firm plans to use the meetings to stress that it intends to be a supportive long-term investor.

Chinese investors in German technology companies have tended to take a consensual approach, buying incremental stakes in companies such as robotics firms Kuka and Kion, typically after long consultation with management and other stakeholders.

In November, Geely asked Daimler to issue new shares so it could buy a stake, as a way to access Mercedes-Benz technology for electric cars and trucks, including battery technology, to help Geely comply with a Chinese crackdown on pollution.

But the German company turned down the offer saying it did not want to dilute existing shareholders, sources said.

Li changed tactics, and quietly amassed a stake of 9.69 percent worth US$9 billion at Daimler’s current share price.

The sources said former Morgan Stanley Germany CEO Dirk Notheis was the architect of amassing the Daimler stake, working with former Morgan Stanley China executive Yi Bao.

Only two or three auto manufacturers will likely survive, a source familiar with Li’s thinking said, prompting Geely to seek access to carmakers with a technological edge.

Daimler is also the only one of Germany’s three carmakers not to be controlled by a family. Volkswagen is majority-owned by the Porsche-Piech clan, while BMW is 47 percent owned by Susanne Klatten, Germany’s richest woman, and her brother Stefan Quandt.

Zhejiang Geely Holding owns Volvo Cars, LEVC, the maker of London’s black cabs, and last year took a majority stake in sports car maker Lotus, a 49.9 percent stake in Malaysian automaker Proton, a US$3.3-billion stake in Volvo Trucks and control of flying car start-up Terrafugia.

Geely sees potential in Daimler because it is developing high-speed connectivity for autonomous cars at a time when Li believes satellite-based internet connections could become more important, the source familiar with his thinking said.

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