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China's Hummer buy may take private equity route

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[February 24, 2010]  SHANGHAI (AP) -- The planned purchase of General Motors Co.'s Hummer brand by a Chinese heavy equipment maker appears stalled by regulators, but that hasn't stopped investors from setting up a fund to invest in the deal.

HardwareGM and Sichuan Tengzhong Heavy Industrial Machinery Corp. extended the deadline for Hummer's sale until Feb. 28 pending approval by the Chinese government. With just days to go, there was no sign Wednesday of any movement on the deal at the Ministry of Commerce or two other agencies concerned.

Beijing has shown little enthusiasm for the planned purchase of a loss-making brand best known for gas guzzling off-road vehicles and which GM is trying to unload as part of a new focus on four mainstay brands.

But Tengzhong and its partners appear to have a Plan B: New J&A Tengzhong Fund SPC, a private equity investment fund owned by an offshore entity that is already recruiting private investors to buy into its acquisition plan.

"Why shouldn't China's Tengzhong undertake its responsibility to go out into the world?" says Li Yan, a Sichuan-born mining tycoon, in a declaration on the Web site of New J & A Investment Management, which recently began advertising for investors. Yan is said to be planning to take a 20 percent stake in Hummer.

"Hummer, just like Lady Liberty, represents the spirit of the American people," Li says in the statement illustrated with a Hummer photo. "Our purchase of Hummer conveys the friendship of Chinese civilization to the American people."

New J&A Investment Management, registered in the Cayman Islands and listing an office address in Hong Kong's prestigious Two International Financial Center, is headed by Lucky Lu Shengxi, a fund manager with an MBA from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute.


Lu, who also is a director of Tengzhong Asset Management Co., was not available for comment Wednesday.

But J&A's sales manager Tony Nie said the fund was set up in January and just opened for subscriptions, which will end in May.

"It's a private equity fund investment, and the money will be used in Tengzhong-Hummer deal," Nie said in a phone interview from the company's mainland Chinese headquarters in the southern city of Shenzhen. "I can't tell you more than that."

Both Tengzhong and GM refused comment.

When the two sides extended a Jan. 31 deadline, Hummer said it was optimistic the deal would be completed by the end of February.

With many Chinese still not back in their offices following a weeklong Lunar New Year holiday which began Feb. 13, calls to the National Development and Reform Commission, the main planning agency, rang unanswered Wednesday. An official in the Ministry of Commerce's news office, who refused to give his name, said they had no word on the deal.

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Hummer and Tengzhong have not disclosed financial details of the planned deal, which is estimated to be worth about $150 million. Li Yan, who is also known by the Tibetan name Suo Lan Duo Ji, reportedly plans an investment of about $30 million.

GM is selling Hummer to focus on its core brands: Chevrolet, Cadillac, Buick and GMC. Its bankruptcy filing last summer said the brand could bring in at least $500 million.

The sale to Tengzhong came after an earlier attempt to sell Saab to another Swedish automaker fell through, and after GM's bid to sell the Saturn brand also collapsed.

But while the deal enjoys backing in Sichuan, it appears less popular in Beijing.

Tengzhong may covet Hummer's automaking technology, but it lacks the requisite permit to manufacture cars, and the government has been seeking to streamline and cool investment in the fast-growing industry, rather than to attract newcomers.

A chilling of the China-U.S. investment climate due to friction over arms sales to Taiwan and other issues may also play a role.

"It might be bad timing, given the growing trade friction these days. The Chinese side is not just unhappy but also very cautious about U.S.-related business," said Wei Chenggang, an auto analyst at Shanghai Securities.

[Associated Press; By ELAINE KURTENBACH]

AP auto writer Dan Strumpf in New York and Associated Press researcher Ji Chen in Shanghai contributed to this report.

Copyright 2010 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.




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