LONDON - BMW was left alone at the altar twice last Thursday.
Chrysler married Daimler-Benz, after years of naming BMW as its favorite carmaker for a potential alliance.
Vickers chose to sell Rolls-Royce to Volkswagen, after agreeing to sell it to BMW.
'Good luck,' said BMW Chairman Bernd Pischetsrieder to Daimler-Benz and Chrysler when he heard their news, according to one of his colleagues. If he said the same when he learned Volkswagen had won the Rolls-Royce prize, it was probably with irony.
There are likely to be more changes to the automotive landscape this year for two reasons:
Global competition is forcing mid-size companies to enter new segments and markets, or lose out. 'Both Daimler-Benz and Chrysler were in good shape and growing,' said Chrysler Chairman Robert Eaton, 'but they will grow faster together.' Fiat and Renault embarked on strategies of organic growth in emerging markets.
The Asian economic crisis has already put Kia Motors in receivership and sapped the strength of other Asian companies. GM is talking about buying a stake in Daewoo. Hyundai President B.J. Park, who wants to buy Kia, said five Korean auto companies is too many: 'Two companies makes sense.'
In the early 1990s, Ford and General Motors made new acquisitions of Jaguar and Saab. The second half belongs to the German carmakers.
'We see all the German companies deciding that they have to expand the area of the automotive economy that they address,' said analyst John Lawson of Salomon Smith Barney in London. And DaimlerChrysler 'is by far is the biggest step.'
Before last week, BMW had already expanded with Rover Group, and Daimler-Benz had joined with watch maker Swatch in a daring joint venture to make the Smart car.
Volkswagen has moved in all directions. Into new segments with the Lupo supermini and the New Beetle retro. Into new markets with Skoda and Seat. Now into the super-luxury zone with Rolls-Royce.
'Our strategy is clear,' said VW spokesman Kurt Rippholz. 'Of the 20 major automakers in the world at present, only 12 will remain in 15 years' time. To meet the challenge of highly competitive markets and overcapacity, you need a full product range.'
Both Chrysler and Daimler-Benz chairmen believe that competition will force more mergers.
'We are leading a new trend that we believe will change the future and face of this industry,' Eaton said. 'By being first, we had the ability to choose our favorite partner.'
Kathy Jackson and Diana T. Kurylko contributed to this report