MELISSA BLOCK, host:
Now to China, where a heated debate is under way about an obscure machinery maker that wants to buy Hummer. China's state-run media have poured scorn on the deal; conspiracy theories abound.
NPR's Louisa Lim examines the reasons why.
(Soundbite of a motorway)
LOUISA LIM: It's been called China's Hummer fever. Among the super-rich here, the super-large gas guzzler is the status symbol to top all others. Videos circulate online of wedding corteges made up solely of Hummers. And Shanghai Hummer owner Liu Haiyun says he can absolutely understand why a Chinese company would want to buy the Hummer brand.
Mr. LIU HAIYUN: (Through Translator) Nowadays, from the point of view of doing business, it's all about image. Buying Hummer proves your power. It shows your value.
(Soundbite of music)
LIM: At an auto show, he watches approvingly as a band plays to advertise his off-road club. Many Hummer owners are members, he says. And he's planning a get-together of 100 Chinese Hummer owners. He loves the idea of Tengzhong Heavy Industrial's acquisition of Hummer, but the state-run media is not on his side. A snake swallowing an elephant, frowned one commentary. Even the staid China Daily opined: The deal obviously does not make sense.
Auto analyst Michael Dunne, from J.D. Power, says one problem is that Tengzhong seems to have come out of nowhere.
Mr. MICHAEL DUNNE (Auto Analyst, J.D. Power and Associates): It's a - off-road manufacturer of commercial vehicles that don't run on the road. No cars. No trucks. They'll be off-road vehicles that cater to moving earth around. That's the kind of equipment they build.
LIM: Li Shufu, the chairman of Geely, another Chinese company, has said he was contacted several times by Hummer, but had no confidence in its market future. Hummer sales were down 62 percent in the first quarter this year.
Some Chinese papers say Tengzhong hasn't yet secured the financing necessary. Others suggest it may have trouble getting the deal approved by various Chinese government bodies.
Mr. CHIP CHAIKIN (Managing Director, Blue Point Capital Partners): If I had to bet, I would probably bet against it going through, but crazier things have happened.
LIM: Chip Chaikin is the managing director of Blue Point Capital Partners. He points out this deal runs counter to China's auto policy in two important ways.
Mr. CHAIKIN: One is to promote consolidation of car producers in China, to make it a more competitive industry with greater scale. And introducing a new producer of cars in China is not really in anybody's inbox at this point. The second is to increase, you know, efficiency of cars and a greater green, more ecologically friendly cars. And it's difficult to think of a brand that runs more counter to that, really, than Hummer.
LIM: Tengzhong has said it aims to produce a more fuel-efficient Hummer, but there are doubts as to whether it has the experience to do this. One school of thought is that this is simply a publicity stunt. Through its bid, this obscure machinery maker has achieved global fame, hype that no amount of advertising could achieve.
But for true believers, like Hummer owner Liu Haiyun, this could be the beginning of a beautiful, new era.
Mr. HAIYUN: (Through Translator) After Hummer comes to China, the price will drop a lot. For many men, owning a Hummer is a dream. They lust after it. So if the price drops, there'll be a big market for Hummers here.
LIM: This deal highlights Chinese sensitivities about foreign acquisitions. The China Daily says it shows up Beijing's lack of purchasing power. Chinese companies have been blocked from pursuing the major acquisitions, yet are encouraged to take second-rate deals like this one.
The media reaction has been telling. Hummer, that all-American symbol of excess, is not welcome here, symbolizing China's growing disenchantment with all-American excess.
Louisa Lim, NPR News, Shanghai.
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