Toyota Buys Stake in Subaru Maker From GM

Toyota Motor Corp. (search) has agreed to buy an 8.7 percent stake in rival Japanese automaker Fuji Heavy Industries (search), the maker of Subaru cars, from General Motors Corp. (GM) for about $315 million, officials from the companies said Wednesday.

GM, the world's biggest automaker, also plans to sell its remaining 11.4 percent Fuji stake and dissolve its alliance with Fuji, the companies said. GM said "there were not enough collaborative projects" to sustain the alliance and that it planned to find other partners and markets in the Asia Pacific region for its resources.

Once GM's sales are completed, Toyota, Japan's biggest automaker, will be the top shareholder in Fuji.

The sales come in the wake of the U.S. automaker's losses of $1.1 billion in the first quarter and another $286 million in the second quarter.

But Toyota Executive Vice President Mitsuo Kinoshita denied the move was a bailout for GM.

"We absolutely do not have help for GM in mind," he told reporters at a Tokyo hotel, where he appeared with Fuji Heavy President Kyoji Takenaka to announce a new alliance between the Japanese automakers.

Toyota Chairman Hiroshi Okuda had expressed worries lately about a possible political backlash from U.S. automakers because of Toyota's bright results at a time when GM and Ford Motor Co. (F) are faltering. Toyota's Kinoshita said GM and Toyota have been talking about the stock sale for several months.

Tsuyoshi Mochimaru, auto analyst with Deutsche Securities in Tokyo, said the benefits for Toyota in the deal were still unclear but the move showed that GM and Fuji both saw that their alliance wasn't bearing fruit.

"In that sense, GM's alliance efforts with Fuji failed," he said. "But it will take time to assess whether synergies can grow between Fuji and Toyota."

Access to Fuji's plants could be a way for Toyota to raise its production capability at a time when its sales are on a roll, but Mochimaru said Fuji, a relatively niche market player, only runs one plant in North America and is unlikely to deliver much of a boost in production for Toyota.

Toyota is paying 520 yen ($4.60) a share for the roughly 68 million Fuji shares it is buying from GM. That is below the closing price for Fuji shares of 540 yen ($4.70) on Wednesday before the deal was announced.

The price of GM's remaining 89 million shares will be determined in the marketplace as GM offers the shares back to Fuji as part of Fuji's open-market share buyback program and through market sales. That stake was worth about $418 million at Wednesday's closing Fuji price.

Toyota and Fuji, meanwhile, are starting talks to agree on future collaboration soon, they said. Possibilities are in working together in product development and production, although nothing has been decided, Kinoshita said. Access to Fuji's plants could be a way for Toyota to raise production capabilities at a time when its sales are on a roll.

Detroit-based GM also owns stakes in Japanese automakers Isuzu Motors, a truck maker, and Suzuki Motor Corp., which makes small cars.

"We've had a good partnership; however both GM and FHI came to the conclusion that there were not enough collaborative projects to sustain the alliance and that each of our interests could be better served through a different approach," said Troy Clarke, GM group vice president and president, GM Asia Pacific. Clarke resigned as Fuji's director of the board Wednesday.

Since GM acquired a stake in Fuji in 2000, the companies have been working together in product development, advanced technology and global purchasing. GM will continue work with Fuji on one production vehicle, the Saab 9-2x, GM said. But other projects will end, including the joint development of a crossover vehicle, announced last year.

Also Wednesday, Fuji revised its profit outlook for the fiscal year ending March 31, 2006, to 12 billion yen ($105 million), down from the earlier forecast for 15 billion yen ($131 million), to account for an unfavorable exchange rate and lack of sales momentum.

GM and Toyota have a long-standing partnership to share environmental technology, and they run a car assembly plant in California together, although the ties do not involve holding stakes in each other.

Out of concern for GM's plight, Okuda has recently suggested Toyota raise the price of car models in the United States. Toyota raised prices soon after, but denied the move was to placate U.S. automakers.

In May, Toyota reported its best ever fiscal year profit of 1.17 trillion yen ($10.3 billion) as sales grew in North America, Europe, Japan and the rest of Asia.

Toyota, based in central Japan's Toyota city, holds stakes in two other Japanese automakers, Daihatsu Motor Co., which makes small cars, and Hino Motors, which makes trucks.

Toyota shares, which have held steady over the past year but gradually rose since May, edged down nearly 1 percent to close at 5,250 yen ($46) before the deal was announced.