General Motors Corp., squeezed by losses, said it plans to sell its 20 percent stake in Fuji Heavy Industries Ltd., the Japanese manufacturer that builds Subarus in the United States and Japan.
Based on the current value of Fuji shares, the sale could bring GM as much as $740 million. That's about half of the $1.4 billion GM originally paid for its Fuji stake in 2000.
In a statement, GM said Toyota Motor Corp. has agreed to purchase 8.7 percent of the 157 million Fuji shares that make up GM's stake. The rest of the shares, GM said, will either be sold back to Fuji or be sold on the open market. GM said it would restate second-quarter earnings to reflect $700 million to $800 million in lost value from the Fuji investment.
Financial pressure on GM continues to build. The automaker lost $1.4 billion in the first half of the year. Sales of large, profitable sport-utility vehicles have fallen substantially, cutting into a major source of company earnings. Auto-parts supplier Delphi Corp., which GM spun off six years ago, says it will go bankrupt if GM doesn't provide a bailout. To get money, GM has turned to the United Auto Workers union, asking the factory workers to pay a larger percentage of their health care costs.
The unraveling of the GM-Fuji deal ends what initially had been billed as a "broad strategic alliance" that was supposed to allow the auto companies to collaborate in the design, development and production of cars and trucks. GM executives also viewed the Fuji investment as part of a global strategy to grow sales in Asia. But Fuji didn't bring much to the table for GM, analysts said.
GM has received blistering criticism for putting a slightly modified version of the Subaru sedan into the lineup at Saab, GM's upmarket Swedish brand. Car reviewers derided the car, the Saab 9-2x, referring to it as the "Saaburu." Consumers have avoided the car. Only 96 of the cars were sold in the United States in September, down from 316 in September a year ago, according to Autodata Corp. In its statement, GM said it would continue to work with Fuji on the Saab 9-2x.
"They never intended it to be a high-volume product, but it still underperformed," said Jeff Schuster, executive director of global forecasting at J.D. Power and Associates.
Schuster said the partnership failed because GM and Subaru couldn't find other projects where partnering made sense. "I think they collectively looked at it and said this isn't going anywhere. Why continue it?" he said.
Other GM strategies also have faltered lately. GM, the No. 1 U.S. automaker, has poured resources into developing and marketing SUVs, such as the Hummer, while rival Toyota bet on gas-electric hybrids. In February, GM agreed to pay Fiat SpA $2 billion to resolve a contract dispute and divest a 10 percent stake in the Italian automaker.