TURIN - Volkswagen has emerged as the leading candidate to take control of Automobili Lamborghini.
A Lamborghini executive said that the company could be sold within a month and that VW has moved ahead of two rival bidders.
Vittorio Di Capua, Lamborghini's president and chief executive, would not confirm talks with VW, but he said the company is likely to change owners soon.
'We are talking with potential shareholders, some of which are from the automotive world,' he said.
At the Turin auto show last week, VW Chairman Ferdinand Piech spent several minutes talking with Di Capua on the Lamborghini stand. Di Capua would not comment on the impromptu meeting. But he said that the next four weeks will be decisive in the bidding for control of Lamborghini.
'There will be a shareholders' meeting in mid-May,' he said. 'We will decide then how much capital investment is needed and the shareholders will decide if they invest themselves or sell to other investors.'
A VW spokesman would not comment.
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.
After years of losses, Lamborghini has announced a $4.2 million profit in 1997 on sales of about $48 million. But Lamborghini sources say that the company is desperate to find new shareholders since its Indonesian owners do not want to invest further.
'With the decline of their currency, it will be the right time for them to sell,' said Di Capua.
Two financial groups are bidding to buy Suharto's 60 percent interest: Texas Pacific Group and General Electric Capital.
Texas Pacific would get technical help from UK assembler and engineering consultancy TWR Group. General Electric Capital, which is also based in the USA, is allied with Rolo Banca, Bologna's biggest bank.
Lamborghini is understood to be close to signing a technical agreement with VW's Audi subsidiary for help in developing the L140, the 'baby Diablo' that is scheduled to appear in 2000.
'Audi is a very important supplier simply for the value of their technological knowledge,' said Di Capua. 'Audi could also supply the components which we need for the car that will enter the $100,000 segment of the market.'