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Volkswagen CEO warns against Continental battle

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The head of Europe’s biggest car maker, Volkswagen, spoke out in favor of a merger between Schaeffler and car-parts supplier Continental but warned against a hostile bid by the family firm.

Earlier in the week, ball-bearing maker Schaeffler swooped with an $18 billion offer to buy the German tyres-to-brakes group. Continental CEO Manfred Wennemer has vowed to fight to stay independent, saying the offer is too low and warning the predator may break up the company. Wennemer was looking isolated, however, after a company source told Reuters that Continental chairman Hubertus von Gruenberg saw little hope for a defence. Now Martin Winterkorn, the chief executive of Volkswagen, one of Schaeffler and Continental’s biggest customers, has spoken out in favor of a deal, warning, however, against a prolonged battle between the two. “What I would not see as positive is a power struggle with a hostile takeover,” Winterkorn told journalists in remarks embargoed for Friday. “I would have a problem if they were to do battle for a half a year.”

Winterkorn also signaled that Volkswagen would not act as a white knight or friendly bidder for Continental. This would be one alternative for management fighting the Schaeffler offer. “As soon as we would get involved, the supplier would be blocked for other car makers.” The takeover would be the biggest so far this year in Europe and would put the combined group head-to-head with Robert Bosch for the position of second-biggest global car-parts supplier behind Japan’s Denso.

Weakened by an €11 billion ($17.5 billion) debt pile from its purchase of VDO which makes the technology inside satellite navigation and fuel injection systems Continental now faces a slowdown in car buying as high oil prices bite. (Reuters)

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