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The global play: Warren Buffett & Bill Gates will buy all the automakers around the world and make happy cars that emit zero pollutants & run on imagination.

Here we go again. That's the sentiment that best explains the latest saga in the automotive globalization wars. This time the French seem to want a piece of the American automotive pie as Renault and its equity partner Nissan court General Motors to join its dual continent alliance. Could this be the beginning of another round of consolidation in the industry, or just a sympathetic overture to the grand dame of the industry before last call? Analysts and journalists are all in a tizzy wondering where the next shoe will fall. It's as if the French invaded the shores of Kennebunkport, Maine.

That got me to thinking about the other possible tie-ups that could happen on the road to consolidation. While GM may seem like a worthy candidate, what about the real elephant in the room, Ford? Here's a company that remains mired in mediocrity, as its product lineup attests. The company has gone so far as to establish a team of marketing and public relations folks to protect the aging F-150 from the upcoming onslaughts from Toyota and GM. Meanwhile, the people in product development are dragging their feet on new products, which seem to trickle out at the pace of sap from a maple tree. Sure, the Fusion and its platform mates are successful, but that's yesterday's news. What's new? We'll have to wait until later this year to find out, and that's just too long. What's more, it's a strong symbol Ford's leadership may be the one that needs a kick in the hind-end. Maybe Honda, Toyota or, heck, even Fiat may find Ford to be a good fit, especially since the lucrative Volvo and Mazda franchises come along with it.

Where is Toyota in all of this consolidation battle, anyway? While they have remained focused on building the empire one brick at a time, I am sure there has to be some indulgence to spend some of the tonnage of cash residing in the vaults in Toyota City. What would the world look like if Toyota went on a buying spree? Would the company be interested in bringing GM under its umbrella? Think about the advantages of sharing the Camry platform with Chevrolet for the next Impala. How about providing Cadillac with a cutting-edge styled version of the Lexus LS platform? Wait, that might be too close for comfort in the war called "competition." But at least GM would finally get some world-class platforms, although I am sure customers would still leave the Chevrolet dealership saying, "You know, that still doesn't feel as good as the Camry, and I bet it will fall apart after a few years," even though the guts are the same.

A strange twist would be if Fiat decided it was healthy enough to buy GM. After all, with GM's market cap now floating at around $16 billion, all Fiat would have to do is return the $2 billion GM gave it two years ago to get a big piece in the automaker, which it could easily afford with its $9 billion in accumulated cash as a result of its turnaround.

And what about Honda, why have they not gotten into the game? They could benefit from a tie up with GM or Ford, right? Maybe they could influx Pontiac with a line of motorcycles, or better yet, provide GMC with a line of professional grade all-terrain vehicles. Talk about added revenues.

Forget all this gamesmanship. Warren Buffett and Bill Gates will take their combined fortunes and buy all the automakers around the world and make happy cars that emit zero pollutants and run on imagination, which is all the latest round of speculation is based on.

By Kevin M. Kelly, Senior Editor, kkelly@autofieldguide.com
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Title Annotation:INSIDER
Author:Kelly, Kevin M.
Publication:Automotive Design & Production
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Aug 1, 2006
Words:624
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