With all eyes on General Motors and Chrysler as their 17 February deadline to submit a viability plan to the US government in return for federal bailout loans – and more money still to come – looms, both have needed to make denials about their deals with Asian automakers.

First up, GM, reported yesterday to have been talking with parent SAIC about selling some shares in its flagship Chinese joint venture to raise some much-needed cash. Subsequently firmly denied, both to the respected news agency that reported it and, oddly, via our forums rather than in direct contact with the editorial team, by a GM spokesman in the US.

After 25 years covering this biz, and at least 15 years of interest in it before then, I tend to go looking for a fire if I smell smoke. What seems really to have happened is that the original report said GM had discussed the sale of some Chinese assets, including the Shanghai General Motors shares, and the later denials said it had no plans to sell ’em. Doesn’t mean the subject didn’t hit the table as every option was mulled over ahead of the Big Day in Washington on Tuesday. It would, however, be a shame if GM was forced to pull back in China – it has had huge success there with the Buick brand, more so than in the US of late, and even little Opel-designed tiddlers carry the badge there.

The other denial, sort of, came from Chrysler, which could also be called Alliance Central these days, where president and vice chairman Jim Press has insisted the partnership with Nissan Motor is continuing despite a Japanese news report claiming the Japanese automaker had shelved it. Chrysler, of course, recently signed a non-binding agreement that would give Fiat a 35% stake and help getting re-established in North America in return for access to small car expertise including engines, platforms and technology but Press said Chrysler and Nissan had only this week discussed changes to the interior of the planned Dodge Hornet.

However, Chrysler product development chief Frank Klegon had said earlier in the week it would be “a tough call” as to whether all of the automaker’s current plans for alliances on small cars would go forward.

Japan’s Kyodo News, citing sources, had said Nissan had suspended preparatory work for the Chrysler deal after saying earlier this week it would revise its product portfolio, including the cancellation of selected future programmes as it forecast its first annual operating loss in 14 years for the fiscal year to 31 March. But why would you want to axe valuable incremental business building a few more cars on a shared platform on an OEM basis when you’re down to the point of interior specifics? It does get confusing though – there are in fact two ongoing deals with Nissan and the last time the Dodge Hornet was mentioned, it was in connection with a now canned OEM deal with China’s Chery.

In another very interesting week, we learned that Renault is going to stop making the D-series Laguna itself, replacing a car launched only in 2007 with a buy-in from Korean unit Renault-Samsung. The large Espace MPV (minivan) is also getting the axe and the plant will instead make commercials.

Renault also announced 2008 results and PSA followed up its financials with news of  11,000 job cuts and that ignited a row between France and the EU, and the Czech Republic, over protectionism. That one isn’t over yet.

So much for European unity.

One advantage of having analysts on the editorial team here is that they can really get their heads around complex data. The way China and the US group different types of vehicle can be a recipe for confusion when you’re trying to sort out whose market really is bigger. Our verdict is in.

Finally, news that one of the industry’s biggest characters is retiring. As we said in our report, ‘retiring’ is not a word normally used in a sentence describing the outgoing, confident car guy called Bob Lutz we always sought out for a comment at motor shows. The bloke with the Big Three and BMW experience will be missed, and not just at GM.

Enjoy the weekend,

Graeme Roberts
Deputy/News Editor