Geely. Heard of it? Li Shufu? Heard of him?
The typical car buyer most likely has not heard of Zhejiang Geely Holding Group – parent of the stunning turnaround at Volvo Cars, controlling shareholder of Volvo Trucks, major shareholder of Daimler AG and rumoured suitor for Fiat Chrysler (FCA).
And Li Shufu? He’s the ambitious owner whose company enjoys very close relations with the Chinese government. But to know all this, you would need to spend time in the weeds of the auto industry — studying emerging markets, international trade, corporate ambition, future product trends and comeback stories.
Geely as an electric vehicle maker is not to be dismissed, either. Geely has huge ambitions there, along with the capital and contacts to make EVs a business, not a vanity stock play.
Geely the multi-brand automaker is China’s top privately-held OEM or original equipment manufacturer. Geely is Geely Autos in China, Volvo Cars, and truck maker Volvo Group. And Geely is Lotus Cars, the legendary British sports car brand, and Polestar, Volvo’s performance company and brand.
Geely is Lynk & Co., the Chinese-Swedish automotive venture launched in 2016 and Malaysian-based Proton. Geely is the London Electric Vehicle Company and now Geely is also a major shareholder in Daimler AG. Earlier this year, Geely took a 9.7 per cent interest in the German company whose Mercedes-Benz is the No. 1 luxury brand in the world.
Let’s add up some numbers. Some analysts believe that Geely group sales could one day sell as many vehicles as Nissan Motor, Honda, FCA and Groupe PSA – 4.0-6.0 million units a year.
For Westerners – Canadians, Americans, Europeans — the tip of Geely’s spear in this assault on the global auto industry is Volvo. Volvo may not be big in terms of sales, but it is a globally recognized brand. But here in 2108, the Volvo that once focused almost entirely on “safety” but is now expanding its brand positioning to include leadership in “electrification” and “autonomous drive.”
In a most recent business presentation, Volvo said it expects to generate half of all annual sales from fully electric cars, while one-third will be autonomous. All Volvo models will be available with either hybrid, plug-in hybrid, or battery electric options in 2019. Volvo is also looking ahead to car sharing, an emerging trend. Last year Volvo put its toe in the water with a subscription service that for now is being called Care by Volvo.
Then there is the Daimler connection. Geely’s stake in Daimler might eventually give it access to the German company’s technological expertise in e-mobility and autonomous drive. Daimler’s battery systems for electric and plug-in hybrid vehicles would fit nicely into Geely’s ambitious short-term targets for sales of new-energy vehicles (NEVs) in China.
On top of that are the rumours of some sort of tie-up between Volvo Trucks and Daimler’s Freightliner division. A combined Freightliner/Volvo alliance with NEV expertise would be quite something – a powerhouse built on European-based synergies and Chinese resources, manufacturing expertise and ambition.
On the other side of the world from Europe, Geely’s close ties to the Chinese government should help the company benefit from China’s recent decision to remove a two-decade restriction on foreign automakers by 2022. This, say analysts, should help build a strong home-grown auto industry.
To pay for all these initiatives, some expect Geely to take Volvo public while retaining a controlling interest. Geely, with revenues of about $43 billion (US), claims to be China’s largest privately-owned automotive manufacturing company, but global ambitions are expensive. A Volvo IPO (initial public offering) would help pay for research, development, expansion and acquisitions.
Finally, don’t rule out Geely’s interest in growing through more alliances or perhaps even a takeover. Geely as a holding company has been adapt at juggling multiple brands. Could a tie-up with, say, Fiat Chrysler (FCA), be possible? The Jeep brand would fit nicely into Geely’s stable, without a doubt.
Geely, as you can see, is working feverishly to become an automotive powerhouse. It’s a great story and definitely worth watching.