The Takeover Game

May 1, 2000

It's a grand time to be the CEO of a big car company with even bigger ambitions. Sales are through the roof, as though the Nasdaq never so much as faltered. Some semblance of rationality is at last making its way into the ordering of parts, meaning huge cash savings. And one after another, smaller companies are falling into your fold.

The latest sheep in the wolfish Ford fold is of course that venerable British institution, Land Rover. Sort of British, that is. Like everything else in this oh-so-global world, Land

Rover was not quite what it seemed by the time Ford swooped down from the hills. Production may have been British, but the profits went straight to BMW in Bavaria. And now that Ford owns it, Land Rover is presumably as American as Volvo, Jaguar, Aston Martin, and apple pie.

But then what about the rest of BMW?

The company is clearly vulnerable. Ford astutely bought only the "Land" part of Rover. Plain Rover got cut loose, sold to an ad hoc British conglomerate that seemed set to all but dismantle the company. If you were hoping to get your hands on an American-spec new Mini, you might be in for a long wait.

The rumor mill has it that Ford will now make an offer for the whole of BMW. Just think of it as yet another step in the conglomeration of the world. In the future, when we say The Big Three, we'll mean the three companies that produce every car on the market. Great for shareholders, not so great for consumers.

Of course the way Ford's been buying up car companies recently, a rumor of its buying GM would probably be believed. But if this particular one is correct, Ford would make a friendly offer for BMW. A kind of logical next step to buying Land Rover.

But there's another rumor making the rounds too, and it stems from just up the Autobahn: Volkswagen. Sharpen those fangs, folks. Whet those knives. VW is still seething at being royally shafted by BMW over the Rolls-Royce deal. That's the one where VW paid top dollar for Rolls-Royce and Bentley, only to find out, after everything was signed, sealed, and all but delivered, that BMW still owned the rights to the name and logo of Rolls-Royce. And that at the stroke of midnight on the last day of the year 2002, those rights would revert to BMW.

Unless, of course, VW were to buy BMW.

Wouldn't that be the perfect corporate revenge?

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