Chinese automakers are still not big enough to take over their troubled foreign rivals despite their global ambitions, analysts and company officials have said.

There have been persistent rumours the Chinese are eyeing Volvo , Saab or Hummer, all of which have been put on the block (ie ‘up for strategic review’) by their US owners Ford and GM.

The companies at the centre of the rumours, such as Geely, one of China’s largest private automakers, have repeatedly denied the reports while at the same time fanning the rumours by saying they are open to foreign acquisitions, Agence France-Presse (AFP ) said.

Such acquisitions are a route through which Geely could access capital, new markets and international partnerships, according to the car company’s website.

Analysts, however, told the news agency they do not expect to see any startling Chinese auto acquisitions in the near future.

“Compared with more than RMB40bn ($US5.8bn) needed to acquire Volvo, (Geely’s) market value is only about RMB3bn,” consultancy Roland Berger said in a research note.

“The total assets of Chery Automobile are about RMB30bn, with capital of RMB3-4bn and the acquisition requires about RMB40bn,” the firm said, listing the Chinese automakers that would be most likely to bid. The market value of Chang’an Auto is only about RMB8.5bn, it added.

“I do not see any kind of possibility that a local company would acquire Volvo or Hummer. It is not realistic financially or even in terms of management capability,” Beijing-based Global Insight analyst John Zeng told AFP.

“For a number of Chinese companies, their sole experience with foreigners is their joint ventures in China. They have never operated overseas,” he added.

One exception – which has turned out badly – is SAIC ‘s acquisition in 2004 of small South Korean SUV specialist Ssangyong, which now faces bankruptcy.

China Automotive Industry Consulting and Development Corporation analyst Jia Xinguang agreed Chinese companies lack the necessary management experience.

“The complicated relationship between trade unions and employers in foreign companies is another problem for them,” he added. But size is the main obstacle.

“Any overseas acquisition needs National Development and Reform Commission approval and at this time the NDRC has concerns about Chinese companies’ capacity to run such acquisitions,” Roland Berger analyst John Shen said.

Late last month, AFP noted, Chen Bin, the head of the commission, effectively warned Chinese automakers they were not yet ready to rub shoulders with international players but at the same time told them “all options were open.”

Last week, Beijing once again urged China’s crowded domestic auto sector to consolidate. But the international opportunities remain attractive as a means to acquire the technology that the Chinese automakers need.

“They do not have strong brand technology and are still relying heavily on foreign partners. Over 60% of vehicle production comes from joint ventures including more than 85% of passenger cars,” Global Insight’s Zeng said.

“One more realistic way to go would be to go for some core assets which they need, rather than buy the whole company,” Roland Berger’s Shen said.

That could make more sense at a time when several Chinese companies, notably SAIC, FAW and DongFeng want to establish their own brands.

It is a path Geely seems to have taken with its acquisition on Friday of Australian auto parts manufacturer Drivetrain Systems.

Geely said the deal would improve its capability to develop and produce transmissions – a key technology that Chinese automakers must learn to master to be globally competitive.

The fact that Chinese automakers crave the global spotlight may mean they enjoy the attention the rumours over foreign acquisitions bring, Shen said.

“A lot of companies are taking advantage of it to promote their brand so they are not taking active measures to clarify the rumours,” he added.