TURIN - TWR Group, the British carmaker and engineering consultancy, has joined forces with an American investment group bidding to take over Lamborghini.
Insiders say Lamborghini's Indonesian owners want to sell their 60 percent interest to Texas Pacific Group, a US investment fund. As Texas Pacific's partner, TWR would run the supercar maker.
Meanwhile, insiders say that Lamborghini Managing Director Vittorio Di Capua favors a rival bid from General Electric Capital of the USA and Rolo Banca, Bologna's biggest bank.
Audi AG, which is close to signing a technical agreement with Lamborghini, may be a third potential buyer, sources say.
'We have been approached by Texas-Pacific Group,' said Daniel Audetto, a former Lamborghini executive who now heads TWR sales and marketing. 'They see some synergy between us and Lamborghini. Texas-Pacific wants us because we have good experience in helping with the turnarounds at Jaguar, Aston Martin and Volvo.'
Texas Pacific, a fund based in Dallas, Texas, acquired a 51 percent stake in Italian motorcycle manufacturer Ducati SpA in 1996.
Audetto said TWR is not directly involved in the Lamborghini negotiations. He said that TWR has no plans to acquire the carmaker itself, though it might take some stake if the Texas-Pacific bid is accepted.
'Buying Lamborghini is one thing,' said Audetto. 'But you have to invest heavily in new models. The problem is not to buy the company; it is to relaunch it. We know how to do that and we also have synergy with other manufacturers.'
TWR, headed by ex-race driver Tom Walkinshaw, is the majority shareholder in AutoNova, a joint venture with Volvo in Uddevalla, Sweden, that builds the C70 coupe and convertible. AutoNova will build nearly 20,000 C70s in 1998.
TWR also helped design the Aston Martin DB7 and builds the DB7's six-cylinder engine in a factory near Oxford, UK.
The company has done engineering consultancy work for Lamborghini.
Indonesian businessman Tommy Suharto controls both V'Power Corp., which owns 40 percent of Lamborghini, and Timor Putra Nasional PV, which owns 20 percent.
The Malaysian firm Micom Setdco owns the remaining 40 percent of the carmaker.
Preliminary figures for 1997 show sales near $48 million, with a $4.2 million operating profit.
Di Capua said he had won approval for a new product range, but now it appears that capital for new product will depend on new owners.
Suharto's Hutasuhut Hamdum visited Lamborghini headquarters 12 March in Sant'Agata Bolognese.
'This was a real cold shower,' said union leader Fabio Papignani after talks with Hamdum. 'We thought the company was close to getting fresh capital to start the approved relaunch plan. Now everything seems to be in a standstill.'
Di Capua said that talks with potential investor groups would take another 60 days.
Meanwhile, Lamborghini is understood to be close to signing a technical agreement with Audi for help in developing the L140, the 'baby Diablo' that is scheduled to appear in 2001.