A Chinese automaker is deeply interested in buying Jeep, an iconic American brand, from Fiat Chrysler Automobiles in a move that likely would face political opposition in the U.S. and create angst among workers. Great Wall Motor told trade publication Automotive News it also has indirectly expressed interest in acquiring the brand known for its rugged, off-road vehicles.
The acknowledgment comes amid broader speculation that the brands once held by Chrysler as one of the Detroit Three automakers could end up with Chinese owners less than a decade after the company was bailed out by U.S. taxpayers. It could also stir criticism over the U.S. economic relationship with China amid concerns about the balance of power in manufacturing and trade.
But Fiat Chrysler has been searching for a partner or buyer to enhance its chances of navigating a fiercely competitive global automotive industry in which major investments are required to meet fuel economy standards and develop self-driving vehicles.
A deal for Jeep would leave the future of several other Fiat Chrysler brands in limbo. While it would retain its popular, profitable Ram truck line, it would also have the far-less-lucrative Dodge and Chrysler lineups.
A possible Jeep acquisition would be in line with Great Wall chairman Wang Jianjun’s goal, announced in February, of becoming the top specialty SUV producer by 2020.
Great Wall “has this intention,” the public relations director for Great Wall's Haval SUV brand, Zhao Lijia, told AP when asked about Jeep.
Fiat Chrysler said no discussions have occurred with Great Wall and that it's fully committed to carrying out a plan to deliver news products and profitability through 2018.
Fiat Chrysler Automobiles confirmed that it has not been approached by Great Wall Motors in connection with the Jeep brand or any other matter relating to its business, the company said in a statement.
Nevertheless, Fiat Chrysler CEO Sergio Marchionne said earlier this year that the Jeep brand could be spun off into a standalone company. Marchionne also has been signaling that he is interested in discussions with other automakers about a sale of the company, partial sale or partnership of some kind for more than two years.