ZURICH, Switzerland - General Motors, the world's largest automaker, does not believe its position is threatened by the proposed DaimlerChrysler merger.
'We don't feel pressure on this,' said Lou Hughes, president of General Motors' International Operations. 'The competition in the industry is intense, and that's all the more reason for us to do our very best.'
GM sold 8.8 million vehicles in 1997, 1.8 million units ahead of second-place Ford.
Hughes, who will move to Detroit this summer along with GM's other top international managers, said the automaker intends to stay No. 1. He said:
GM is spending about $2.5 billion annually outside North America. The automaker wants to raise international sales to about the same level as sales in North America over the next five to six years. Hughes said that would add up to 2 million additional units.
Production shifts probably will be added in Europe to squeeze more out of capacity-constrained plants.
The company continues to cut costs.
An equity stake in Daewoo Motor Co. would give the company a greater presence in Asia.
'If we're weak anywhere, it's in Asia,' said Hughes. 'Isuzu does pretty well, but we don't have enough of a presence, and that's why we're investing.'
GM owns 37.5 percent of Isuzu.
Hughes estimates the world automotive market will increase by 12-14 million units by 2010, with half of the growth in Asia.
Hughes said the proposed DaimlerChrysler merger has not pressured GM to seek other partners. He said Daewoo is the only automaker with which GM is discussing closer ties.
But Hughes said he would not be surprised if other makers are looking for partners.
'Some companies, particularly smaller companies, could feel threatened and feel a desire to develop alliances with other companies,' he said.
But he does not see any companies particularly vulnerable as a result of the merger.
'The worst thing you can do is to say a company won't make it,' he said. 'So while there are a number of companies losing money, I wouldn't write any of them off.'
Hughes said DaimlerChrysler's biggest challenge will be to blend the cultures.
'You spend a lot of human energy on getting to know one another as opposed to focusing on your competition,' he said. 'It's almost like joining two armies. They're doing a lot of maneuvers to learn about how each other operates while they're under attack. We discovered a lot of that with EDS and Hughes.'
GM took over the two non-automotive businesses in the 1980s and has since sold them. A previous joint venture with Daewoo ended bitterly in 1992.
Hughes said the potential for culture clash is one reason GM is taking its time with the current Daewoo talks.
Kim Woo-Choong, Daewoo group chairman, told Automotive News Europe this month that he expects talks to conclude in June. Hughes did not offer a timetable.
'Daewoo has a complex corporate organizational structure,' he said. 'It has a lot of overseas subsidiaries now, and so we have all these pieces and we're trying to find out which ones can we cooperate on. That's going to take a lot of time.'