PARIS - The heads of Europe's carmakers are spending a lot of their time thinking about heavy trucks these days.
Upheaval in the commercial vehicle business can be traced to the European Commission's March 14 veto of a merger between AB Volvo and Scania AB.
Volvo, which sold its car business to Ford in January 1999, initiated the merger a year ago when it bought nearly 46 percent of Scania equity on the stock market.
The Commission argued that the move was anti-competitive since it would have given the combined company a 90 percent market share in Scandinavia and Ireland.
It took only a few days for the big players to react. On March 27, Volkswagen AG bought 18.7 percent of Scania's capital for A1.6 billion from Swedish industrial holding Investor AB. Investor was Scania's main shareholder.
VW now has a dominant position at Scania, with 34 percent of the voting rights. Volvo has only 31 percent of the voting rights and isn't represented on the Scania board.
VW Chairman Ferdinand Piëch has long been eager to buy Scania to gain a significant position in the truck business. Scania Chairman Leif Ostling supported the Volkswagen deal rather than a merger with archrival Volvo.
As the VW-Scania deal was being finalized, Swedish newspapers reported that Volvo was talking to Renault about the acquisition of its truck division, Renault VI. Both Volvo and Renault declined to comment.
But it would not the first time the two companies' truck operations have been linked. The failed full-scale Renault-Volvo merger in 1993 had started as a plan to merge truck operations.
Following the sale of Volvo Car Corp. to Ford, Volvo decided it needed to expand its truck business.
Volvo signed an agreement with Mitsubishi Motors Corp. in October 1999 to take a 19.9 percent stake in a truck and bus spinoff operation to be created by Mitsubishi. Volvo also took a 5 percent stake in Mitsubishi Motors Corp. capital. The alliance between DaimlerChrysler and Mitsubishi Motors is not expected to threaten the truck deal.
Volvo is also reported to be looking at US truck group Navistar. Furthermore, Fiat is said to be interested in strengthening its truck and bus division Iveco by forming an alliance with Volvo. German truckmaker MAN is also considered a possible partner for other European makers.
Renault Chairman Louis Schweitzer recently said Renault VI was not for sale.
But he also said he was looking for cooperation and 'did not exclude a shareholding aspect.'