DETROIT - DaimlerChrysler needs a major Japanese partner if it hopes to succeed in Asia, said Hilmar Kopper, chairman of the company's supervisory board.
Kopper, who is also chairman of Deutsche Bank's supervisory board, declined to talk about a potential acquisition of a stake in Mitsubishi Motors Corp.
But in an interview in Detroit, he said that acquiring a strong Japanese partner for Asian markets 'would be a very important move. Without a foothold in Japan we will never make it in Asia.'
The company took a serious look at Nissan Motor Co. Ltd., but in the end decided it would absorb too much management attention. Moreover, DaimlerChrysler is not interested in 'rescue operations,' Kopper said.
A year after DaimlerChrysler passed on a Nissan deal, 'I'm still happy we didn't do that,' he said.
During a trip to Detroit, Kopper also said:
Management is virtually powerless to raise the depressed price of DaimlerChrysler shares while automotive stocks are out of favor with investors enamored of the so-called New Economy.
DCX wants its US operations to maintain a strong American identity and culture.
'We should do everything we can to remain an indigenous American company,' he said. And that is one of the prime jobs of Jim Holden, the former Chrysler sales chief who became president of DCX's American operations this year.
The organization of the merged company into an American operation and a global company based in Germany was sensible. It created a balanced company with half of its business in the American mass market.
Company executives have a more realistic view of the advantages of the combination more than a year after the union was completed, he said.
'It's much more sober today. It's more realistic. There's an American management for America, and another management for the rest of the world.'
In Germany, supervisory boards set corporate policy and appoint the executives who sit on the management board, including DCX Chairman Jurgen Schrempp. Management boards make most decisions and run operations.
Holden is chief of the Chrysler group of brands and of Mercedes-Benz sales in America. Although Holden has no authority over DCX's US heavy truck brands, Sterling and Freightliner, Kopper said, 'Over time, I would hope that he would represent' the truck operations here in public, Kopper said.
The company must maintain the strong identities of such brands as Mercedes-Benz, Dodge and Jeep. A common business culture would tend to develop 'mediocre German-American cars,' he said.
Managing public perception is a key part of maintaining separate identities on each side of the Atlantic, he said.
Thus, Schrempp will be careful not to overshadow Holden, he said. For instance, Schrempp's primary US office will be in New York City, not at the former Chrysler headquarters in Auburn Hills.
Schrempp will become better known in the USA, but he should be seen mainly as a global executive, not a German or American one, Kopper said.
Kopper was in Detroit to encourage suppliers to invest in Germany. He pitches Germany as the country's top government official in charge of foreign investment. He retired three years ago as chief executive at Deutsche Bank, where he worked for 40 years.
He acknowledged that despite improved sales and financial results, DaimlerChrysler's stock has suffered since the merger, but said the answer is not a more complete integration of US and German operations.
Investors are chasing the promise of dot-com companies, depressing the stock of most established industrial companies, he said. 'We are not the flavor the month.'
In April, the company's shareholders will vote on a proposal to buy back 10 percent of DCX shares.
DaimlerChrysler's stock was hurt last year when Standard & Poor's excluded DaimlerChrysler from its S&P 500 index because it was not an American company. Kopper called the decision 'ridiculous' in light of the globalizing of the economy.
Stock options, a common way to reward American executives, will become more generous for the company's German executives, he said. A new stock option plan will be spelled out at the company's April annual shareholder's meeting.
Asked if an American could become chairman of DaimlerChrysler AG, he said, 'Yes, why not?' Kopper said talent is what counts, not nationality.