Suzuki Volkswagen “Wagen-san” divorce: a teachable moment

“Mr. Suzuki didn’t want to be a VW employee, and that’s understandable” (Prof. Dudenhoeffer via Bloomberg)

Suzuki Volkswagen divorce: Volkswagen makes approx US$ 1.3 billion profit, Suzuki comes out more or less even

by Gerhard Fasol, All Rights Reserved. 18 September 2015, updated: 27 September 2015

A smiling Martin Winterkorn and Osamu Suzuki (79 years old at that time) looking the other way celebrated their freshly agreed “comprehensive partnership” at a press conference in Tokyo on December 9, 2009. Friends of mine who attended this press conference told me later that the lack of communication between Martin Winterkorn and Osamu Suzuki was quite visible to the audience, and that they already then had doubts about the future of this partnership.

Its interesting to look at the faces of Mr Winterkorn and Mr Suzuki in Reuters’ photograph of the occasion – a beaming Mr Winterkorn, and Mr Suzuki looking away from Mr Winterkorn – avoiding Mr Winterkorn’s eyes.

Wall Street Journal reported, that Suzuki and Volkswagen would negotiate details of their “comprehensive partnership” sometime later weeks or months after the announcement. We now know that these negotiations did not lead anywhere, and were never concluded.

Reuters reports that at the press conference VW CEO Martin Winterkorn focused on his plan to overtake Toyota as the global No. 1 carmaker in 2018 or earlier, Suzuki being obviously meant as a step to achieve this target to overtake Toyota and become No. 1 globally. According to Reuters, Volkswagen sold 3.265 million cars in the first half of 2009, and Suzuki sold 1.15 million – if combined, if Suzuki would become Volkswagen’s subsidiary, this would be 4.42 million compared to Toyota’s 3.564 million.

Suzuki Motor Corp. CEO Osamu Suzuki is reported by Reuters to have emphasized that he wanted to clear up any misunderstanding: he definitely did not want Suzuki to become a 12th brand for Volkswagen, and he does not want other people to tell him what to do – in reply to the question if he could see a German CEO for Suzuki Motor Corporation.

Suzuki Volkswagen alliance

Suzuki Volkswagen alliance time line

  • 9 Dec 2009: VW-CEO Martin Winterkorn and Suzuki-CEO Osamu Suzuki announced the “comprehensive partnership” at a press conference in Tokyo
  • 9 Dec 2009: Suzuki transferred 107,950,000 treasury shares to Volkswagen AG, valued approx at 226,695,000,000 yen (= approx. US$ 2.3 billion)
  • Suzuki acquired a 2.5% voting stake in Volkswagen for US$ 1.13 billion
  • 15 Jan 2010: VW purchased 19.89% of Suzuki shares for about € 1.7 billion
  • 1 July 2011: Osamu Suzuki publicly denounces “Wagen-san’s” intentions in his Japanese language blog in Japan’s Nikkei “スズキとワーゲンの今とこれから (鈴木修氏の経営者ブログ)” (“Suzuki and Wagen now and the way forward”) (may need Nikkei subscription)
  • Sept 2011: Suzuki’s Board decides to terminate the partnership
  • 18 Nov 2011: Suzuki gives notice to Volkswagen of termination of partnership, Volkswagen does not reply
  • 24 Nov 2011: Suzuki files for arbitration at International Court of Arbitration of the International Chamber of Commerce (ICC) in London
  • 30 Aug 2015: ICC Arbitration Court issues judgement and holds the termination of the partnership valid, orders VW to sell all Suzuki shares back to Suzuki, and orders Suzuki to pay damages for breaking the agreement
  • 17 Sep 2015 8:45am: Suzuki purchases back 119,787,000 of its own shares previously owned by VW back via Tokyo Stock Exchange ToSTNeT-3 system for 460,281,547,500 yen (approx. US$ 3.9 billion)
  • 26 Sep 2015: Suzuki announced the transaction to sell all 4,397,000 Volkswagen shares which Suzuki owns to Porsche Automobile Holding SE, completing the termination of the partnership and capital alliance with VW

No common language, colliding expectations and no “meeting of minds”

Much has been reported in the press about what went wrong with the Suzuki-Volkswagen alliance, and both parties obviously have a very different understanding of the development, and both sides will feel obliged to maintain confidentiality. The ICC arbitration is also confidential. Therefore it will be hard to establish the precise facts.

However, it is obvious, that from the start there was no “meeting of minds”.

Expectations were very different and on collision, and obviously were never discussed openly between VW and Suzuki at CEO level. Even if they had wanted to, without any common language any direct communication was impossible anyway between CEOs.

Suzuki apparently hoped to receive technology from Volkswagen, Suzuki is reported to have hoped for personnel support, workers from Volkswagen (?) – it is not clear to this author what Suzuki was planning to give in return. Suzuki apparently gave up on the hope to obtain Diesel engines from Volkswagen and in the end did so from Fiat, which Volkswagen claimed to be an infringement of the cooperation agreement, a view which seems to have been maintained by the ICC arbitrators.

It is obvious, that Volkswagen was aiming to acquire increasing stakes of Suzuki, and was aiming to make Suzuki a subsidiary under Volkswagen control. Volkswagen was particularly interested in Suzuki’s market position in India via Maruti Suzuki India Limited, and by Suzuki’s know-how in designing and producing cost-efficient small sized vehicles. Again its unclear what Volkswagen planned to give in return.

Reportedly, Volkswagen demanded to increase the holding of Suzuki shares to 33% to “facilitate technology transfer”.

In September 2011, Suzuki Motors’ Board of Directors decided to terminate the cooperation with VW, making Suzuki Volkswagen divorce unavoidable.

On 18 Nov 2011 Suzuki gave notice to Volkswagen of termination of the partnership, and asked for return of the Suzuki shares. Volkswagen held on to the Suzuki shares for the time being.

Osamu Suzuki denounces “Wagen-san” intentions publicly in his Japanese blog in Nikkei – the world’s largest business daily.

On 1 July 2011, Suzuki-CEO Osamu Suzuki chose to inform the world in great detail about his opinion and decisions about the relationship between Suzuki and “Wagen” (ワーゲン). This article is entitled “スズキとワーゲンの今とこれから (鈴木修氏の経営者ブログ)” (english translation: “Suzuki and Wagen now and the way forward” (Osamu Suzuki’s management blog)). Osamu Suzuki’s blog can be read here (may need Nikkei subscription).

Clearly, calling Volkswagen “Wagen” and “Wagen-san” already expresses Osamu Suzuki’s frustrations very clearly. We are not sure, but most likely Volkswagen CEO and top management probably read this blog a few days later once it was translated by VW’s Japanese staff.

With this blog article it was unmistakably clear to the world that the Suzuki-“Wagen” cooperation had been broken down without any possibility for repair, and makes the Suzuki Volkswagen divorce public.

Professor Ferdinand Dudenhoeffer, Director of the Center for Automotive Research at the University Duisburg-Essen according to Bloomberg, summarized: “Mr Suzuki didn’t want to be a Volkswagen employee, and that’s understandable”.

VW’s reply: “The tail is not going to wag the dog” (VW-CEO Winterkorn cited in Der Spiegel on 19 Sept 2011)

Germany’s leading intellectual and business weekly Der Spiegel on 19 Sept 2011 quotes VW-CEO Martin Winterkorn about the VW-Suzuki relationship: “Da wackelt der Schwanz nicht mit dem Hund” (the tail is not going to wag the dog).

In the same article Der Spiegel of 19 Sept 2011 states that if Suzuki terminates the cooperation agreement with Suzuki, then VW would be free to increase its ownership in Suzuki even to a majority ownership, and Der Spiegel quotes an unnamed top VW Manager: “Ich schließe dies Möglichkeit nicht aus” (I don’t exclude this possibility).

In the same article, Der Spiegel reports that in an unnamed VW Executive’s opinion, future acquisition of a majority of shares of Suzuki by VW has been agreed since the beginning of the negotiations: clearly exactly the opposite of Suzuki-CEO Osamu Suzuki’s public statements – pointing to a huge misunderstanding between both CEOs.

Suzuki Volkswagen divorce: ICC arbitration results

On 30 August 2015, Suzuki announced details of the arbitration in London and its result in a press notice.

According to Suzuki, Suzuki requested VW to terminate the alliance and the capital relationship, but VW apparently did not respond. Therefore, Suzuki gave notice on 18 Nov 2011 of the termination, and on 24 Nov 2011 Suzuki filed for arbitration with the International Court of Arbitration of the International Chamber of Commerce (ICC). Suzuki asked for termination of the agreement with VW, and to rule that VW should sell all Suzuki shares either directly to Suzuki, or to a third party determined by Suzuki.

One 30 August 2015, the ICC ruled:

  • Termination of Suzuki-VW Framework Agreement: Suzuki’s termination notice of 18 Nov 2011 is valid, and the alliance therefore ended on 18 May 2012.
  • Divestment of shares in Suzuki: VW must sell all shares of Suzuki either direct to Suzuki or to a third party nominated by Suzuki
  • Suzuki’s breaches of agreement: IIC found that Suzuki violated some parts of the Framework Agreement, and that damages to be paid by Suzuki to Volkswagen will be determined later.

Lessons to learn from the Suzuki Volkswagen divorce: communication & respect

  • “Comprehensive partnership” without meeting of minds does not work
  • Partnerships are hard when CEOs on both sides don’t have any language in common, thus can’t talk to each other
  • Hidden agendas destroy trust
  • Without trust partnerships don’t work
  • Processes and methods (e.g. acquisitions of minor players all over Europe) successful in Europe often don’t work in Japan
  • Partnerships without respect both ways don’t work
  • Renault and Carlos Ghosn show us how to build a Japanese-European car company alliance, Daimler (with Mitsubishi Motors) and Volkswagen (with Suzuki) show us how it does not work

Suzuki Volkswagen alliance: financial aspects

  • Volkswagen reportedly paid Suzuki 222.5 billion yen (= approx. US$ 2.5 billion) for 19.89% of Suzuki’s shares
  • Suzuki acquired a 2.5% voting stake in Volkswagen for US$ 1.13 billion

On December 9, 2009, Suzuki transferred 107,950,000 treasury shares to Volkswagen AG, valued approximately at 226,695,000,000 yen (= approx. US$ 2.3 billion)

On June 3, 2010, Suzuki announced the offer of additional shares to be issued by third-party allotment to Volkswagen AG to bring Volkswagen’s share up to 19.89% as follows:

  • 3,660,000 newly issued shares
  • issue price 1755 yen per share
  • total proceeds = 6,423,300,000 yen (= approx. US$ 64 million)

Suzuki announced to use the funds received from Volkswagen as follows:

  • 122,484 million yen (= approx. US$ 1.2 billion) for Research and development expenses focusing on environmentally friendly, next generation technology for automobiles
  • 100,000 million yen (= approx. US$ 1 billion) Reduction of interest-bearing liabilities to improve financial position (corresponding roughly to the purchase costs of Suzuki’s 2.5% stake in Volkswagen)

Suzuki Volkswagen divorce: financial aspects

On September 17, 2015, Suzuki announced the acquisition of treasury shares in order to acquire the shares in Suzuki held by Volkswagen AG:

  • Suzuki acquired 119,787,000 Suzuki common stock shares
  • Total amount paid: 460,281,547,500 yen (US$ 3.9 billion)
  • Date of acquisition: Sept 17, 2015
  • Method: Purchase through ToSTNeT-3 on the Tokyo Stock Exchange at 8:45am Thursday 17 Sept 2015 before regular trading hours

Tokyo Stock Exchange’s ToSTNeT (Tokyo Stock Exchange Trading NeTwork) was launched in 1998, and reestablished on Jan 15, 2008, and the ToSTNeT-3 was established specifically for listed companies to acquire their own shares.

Suzuki has more than 1 Trillion yen (US$ 8.3 billion) in cash, and paid for the share purchase in cash from cash reserves.

Volkswagen had informed Suzuki to have sold 111,610,000 shares corresponding to 19.89% of voting shares, corresponding to approx. 463 billion yen ($3.8 billion).

On September 26, 2015, Suzuki announced the sale of all 4,397,000 Volkswagen voting shares Suzuki owned to Porsche Automobile Holding SE

  • Suzuki sold 4,397,000 Volkswagen voting shares to Porsche Automotive Holding SE
  • Suzuki did not announce the sales value. At VW’s current (27 Sept 2015) share price of € 115.82, the total sale revenue is expected to be approximately € 509 million (= approx. US$ 570 million)
  • Completion of sale: Sept 30, 2015
  • Suzuki reports an extraordinary profit of YEN 36.7 billion (= approx US$ 304 million) on this sale.

Ignoring transaction costs, interest, opportunity cost, arbitration and legal fees etc. the balance looks as follows:

  • Volkswagen purchased the 19.89% stake in Suzuki for approx. US$ 2.5 billion and sold the same stake for approx. $3.8 billion, i.e. making approx. US$ 1.3 billion profit
  • Suzuki sold its 19.89% shares to Volkswagen for approx. US$ 2.5 billion, and now repurchased the same shares for approx. $3.8 billion. In parallel, Suzuki purchased 2.5% of Volkswagen voting shares for approx. US$ 1.13 billion. Thus Suzuki overall, theoretically, made a small loss of approx. US$ 30 million on these transactions plus may have to pay damages to VW for breach of contract to be determined later by ICC.

Purely financially, Volkswagen made approx. US$ 1.3 billion profit on this transaction, while Suzuki came out more or less unchanged except for the damages Suzuki may have to pay to Volkswagen.

Suzuki Motor Corporation (スズキ株式会社) – slogan: “Small Cars for a Big Future”

In FY2014, Suzuki sold 750,000 cars in Japan and 1,170,000 cars in India

Suzuki Motor Corporation (スズキ株式会社) was founded by Michio Suzuki (鈴木道雄) (18 Feb 1887 – 27 Oct 1982) in October 1909 as Suzuki Type Machine Manufacturing Workshops (鈴木式織機製作所) in Hamamatsu, Shizuoka-ken.

On 15 March 1920 Suzuki-type Machine KK (鈴木式織機株式会社) was founded, and renamed to Suzuki Motor Engineering KK (鈴木自動車工業株式会社) in June 1954. In October 1990, the company was renamed to today’s name: Suzuki Motor Co Ltd (スズキ株式会社).

Suzuki’s international business includes:

  • Maruti Suzuki India Limited (マルチ・スズキ・インディア)
  • Magyar Suzuki Corporation (マジャールスズキ)
  • Changan Suzuki (長安スズキ)
  • P.T. Suzuki Indomobil Motor (スズキ・インドモービル・モーター)

In FY2014, Suzuki sold:

  • 750,000 cars in Japan
  • 1,170,000 cars in India
  • however, in 2012 decided to end car sales in the USA

Maruti Suzuki India Limited (マルチ・スズキ・インディア) – slogan: “Way of Life!”

Sanjay Gandhi first tried to cooperate with Volkswagen, cooperation attempts with Volkswagen failed, leading to cooperation with Suzuki

Maruti Suzuki India Limited was established in 1981 as Maruti Udyog Limited.

On 16 Nov 1970, the company ‘Maruti technical services private limited’ (MTSPL) was founded by the Indian Government to lay the foundation for an Indian automotive industry, and Sanjay Gandhi was the first CEO.

Sanjay Gandhi contacted Volkswagen AG to seek a cooperation or joint-venture to produce an Indian version of the VW Käfer (Beatle). However, a cooperation with Volkswagen did not work out. The company failed in 1977, and was reborn as Maruti Udyog Ltd by Dr V. Krishnamurthy.

In 1982, Maruti Udyog Ltd and Suzuki entered into a licensing and joint venture agreement, which has developed very well into India’s largest automotive company: today’s Maruti Suzuki India Limited (マルチ・スズキ・インディア).

  • publicly traded (BSE: 532500, NSE: MARUTI)
  • Market capitalization: 1.33 trillion Indian Rupees (US$ 20.23 billion) (as of Sept 18, 2015)
  • Market share in India: approx. 37% (2012) – 45% (2014) of India’s passenger car market (45% for 2014 according to Nikkei Business Online)
  • 6900 employees
  • Suzuki ownership: increased from 26% to 40% in 1987, increased to 50% in 1992. Currently Suzuki owns 54% of Maruti Suzuki.

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