Ghosn boosts Renault stake in China with Brilliance venture

TOKYO • Renault SA has agreed to buy almost half of Brilliance China Automotive Holdings Ltd’s unprofitable minibus unit, giving the French carmaker’s light-commercial vehicles (LCVs) a foothold in the world’s largest auto market.

The companies agreed to invest a combined 1.5 billion yuan (RM949.77 million) in Shenyang Brilliance Jinbei Automobile Co in proportion to their stakes, Brilliance said in a statement yesterday. As part of the deal, Renault will pay one yuan to take a 49% stake in the subsidiary.

Brilliance shares gained as much as 2.3% in Hong Kong trading yesterday.

Renault president Carlos Ghosn is using the company’s strength in commercial vehicles to expand in China and help rescue a struggling unit of Brilliance after having restored the fortunes of industry giants from France’s biggest carmaker to Japan’s Nissan Motor Co.

Shenyang Brilliance Jinbei reported losses of 1.1 billion yuan over the past two years and 3.6 billion yuan in liabilities as of the end of 2016.

“By joining hands with Brilliance, Groupe Renault aims at becoming a major LCV player in China,” Ghosn said yesterday in a separate statement.

He said China’s LCV market has high potential and accounts for more than three million vehicles a year.

Renault is a leader in the European LCV market with about a 16% market share in 2016, according to the Brilliance statement. Renault is also capable of bringing newenergy vehicles to the Jinbei’s product line-up, according to the statement.

Brilliance said the cooperation with Renault will help “turn around its existing minibus operation as well as cultivate the full potential of the LCV market in China”.

The LCV business has been an underperformer for parent Brilliance, which will probably report net income jumped 31% to 4.8 billion yuan this year, according to average of analyst estimates.

Sales of LCVs, also called minivans, in China came to 106,900 units in the first five months of this year, according to a note to clients from Sanford C Bernstein & Co. Passenger vehicle sales totalled 9.4 million in the five months ended May, according to China Automotive Information Network figures.

“Whereas most investors now consider the minivan business a sizeable and perpetual drag to Brilliance’s value, we’d expect this announcement to offer hope of a turnaround,” wrote analysts at Sanford C Bernstein, including Robin Zhu.

The parent company’s shares should gain “given new hopes of a Renault-led turnaround”, they wrote.

The carmakers gave no timeline for beginning production.

Brilliance also makes cars with BMW AG at two plants in Shenyang, including the 3-Series and 5-Series sedans, while Renault makes autos with Dongfeng Motor Group Co in Wuhan. — Bloomberg