General Motors Corp. said Wednesday its board of directors will meet by telephone Friday, a week after dissident shareholder Kirk Kerkorian disclosed his efforts to link the company with foreign competitors Renault and Nissan.
GM spokeswoman Toni Simonetti said the meeting was scheduled before Kerkorian proposed the three-way alliance, but she would not disclose what was on the agenda.
The board met by teleconference last week to discuss Kerkorian’s proposal, and the company issued a statement saying that members would take the plan under advisement.
Normally the board meets the first week of every month, but recently has been talking more frequently, Simonetti said.
“In addition to its regularly scheduled meetings, the board recently has been convening a little more regularly by teleconference to just stay up to date on the progress of the turnaround strategy and such,” Simonetti said.
The possibility of a three-way global auto partnership emerged last week after Kerkorian, who owns 9.9 percent of GM, said he had approached Carlos Ghosn, the chief executive of both Renault SA of France and Nissan Motor Co. of Japan, about considering adding GM to the Renault-Nissan alliance.
Kerkorian’s investment company, Tracinda Corp., told GM Chairman and CEO Rick Wagoner in a letter that Renault and Nissan are receptive to the idea of including GM in their partnership and purchasing “a significant minority interest” in the automaker.
GM, the nation’s largest automaker, lost $10.6 billion last year, but made a $445 million profit in the first quarter of 2006.
Simonetti said GM has made great strides in recent months, with expense savings from 35,000 hourly workers taking early retirements and buyouts, an agreement on health care cost concessions with the United Auto Workers and freezes in health care and pension benefits for salaried workers and executives.
The company also has new models coming out that should boost sales in the second half of the year, she said.
“I think Rick Wagoner had formulated a turnaround strategy, and we in the past year have successfully implemented a significant share of that turnaround plan,” Simonetti said.
GM shares fell 4 cents to $29.37 in morning trading on the New York Stock Exchange.
Also Wednesday, DaimlerChrysler AG Chairman Dieter Zetsche said he isn’t intimidated by the possibility that GM may join the Renault-Nissan alliance.
“We are certainly not afraid,” he told reporters after a news conference in Tokyo to show a new truck model by DaimlerChrysler’s Japanese subsidiary.
Zetsche said that mergers generally don’t produce quick benefits.
It usually “takes some years to benefit from a merger,” he said, while declining to judge on whether such a tie could succeed or not. He said his company will watch for developments in the talks among the three carmakers.
DaimlerChrysler, formed in 1998 in a merger between Daimler-Benz AG of Germany and the Chrysler Corp., is often viewed as an example of a global alliance that had produced shaky results despite initial promises for both sides benefiting from scale and collaboration.
The Renault-Nissan alliance, however, is widely viewed as a role model for such tie-ups.
Ghosn has a reputation for turning around troubled companies with his record at Nissan, Japan’s No. 2 automaker, since being sent in by Renault in 1999. Renault owns a 44.4 percent stake in Nissan, which in turn owns a 15 percent stake in Renault.
He has brought back Nissan from the verge of bankruptcy to record profits and sales growth in markets around the world.
The board of Renault and Nissan on Monday authorized Ghosn to begin negotiations with GM, if the GM board agrees.
The Nihon Keizai Shimbun reported Wednesday that talks among the three automakers will focus on purchasing parts together and sharing environment and safety technologies.
Nissan and Renault will set up teams to study possible partnerships with GM, including holding stakes in each other, the report said.
Nissan spokeswoman Mia Nielsen declined to comment on the report, calling it speculative. The report did not cite sources, which is customary in Japanese newspapers.
Cost-cutting by purchasing auto parts together was one of the main tasks Ghosn tackled in leading a turnaround at Nissan, Japan’s No. 2 automaker, since being sent in by Renault in 1999, when the Renault-Nissan alliance was formed. Renault owns a 44.4 percent stake in Nissan, which in turn owns a 15 percent stake in Renault.
Collaboration on technology is relatively common among automakers that may work as rivals in other areas.
On Tuesday, French Industry Minister Francois Loos said in an interview with i-Tele television that France “should be extremely cautious.” The French state holds about 15 percent of Renault.