VW buys stake in Navistar in bet on U.S. trucks

Christoph Rauwald and John Lippert
Bloomberg News

Volkswagen AG will buy a stake in Navistar International Corp. to gain a foothold in the U.S. heavy-truck market, taking a gamble on a struggling U.S. manufacturer as the German company still grapples with the fallout from the emissions-cheating scandal. Navistar shares soared as much as 67 percent.

VW will pay $256 million for a 16.6 percent holding and assume two board seats as part of a deal that includes technology sharing and joint purchasing, the companies said Tuesday. The automaker will pay $15.76 a share, 12 percent more than Navistar’s most recent close. The holding, which VW said it may increase later, puts it on par with the largest shareholders, activist investors Carl Icahn and Mark Rachesky.

“Navistar has always made sense as an expansion target for Volkswagen, which has no presence in the North American commercial-vehicle market,” said Brian Sponheimer, a Gabelli & Co. analyst in Rye, New York. “And Navistar has been burning through cash. This allows dealers to tell their customers that Navistar will be here, in the North American market, well into the future.”

Gaining traction in the U.S. heavy-truck market, dominated by Daimler AG, Volvo AB and Paccar Inc., is key to VW’s plan to forge a global commercial-vehicle operation with higher profit margins than rivals. The marriage isn’t without risk given Navistar’s shrinking market share in the U.S., a country that has also confounded VW. Even before the diesel-cheating scandal, Volkswagen’s car sales were slipping behind competitors in the region.

“Closer collaboration among our existing brands was a top priority for our commercial vehicles business and we are well on track in this context,” Andreas Renschler, head of the Volkswagen Truck & Bus division, said in a statement. “We are now taking the next step on our way to becoming a global champion in the commercial-vehicles industry.”

Navistar surged 40.7 percent to $19.79 Thurdsay after reaching $23.45 for the Lisle, Illinois-based company’s biggest percentage gain since at least 1980. Volkswagen’s American depositary receipts rose 0.7 percent to $29.54. Cummins Inc., a maker of engines for Navistar, fell as much as 7.3 percent to $116.94 on concern that VW will take over as the supplier.

Working with Navistar will provide VW with access to technology and designs targeting customers in the U.S., where model lines are very different from offerings in the rest of the world. Many U.S. truck drivers prefer vehicles with an elongated nose, while European operators buy trucks with a flat face due to length restrictions. Volkswagen, Europe’s biggest carmaker, hired Renschler away from Daimler’s truck unit to push a stalled plan to deepen cooperation between its MAN and Scania brands.

Munich-based MAN and Swedish counterpart Scania don’t sell vehicles in the U.S., and the group’s only other large truckmaking operation is a VW-brand division in Brazil focused on Latin America. MAN has a Chinese joint venture with local affiliate Sinotruk Hong Kong Ltd. that sells models in Asia. Entering the U.S. will give VW access to a market a bit smaller than its current home region. Around 240,000 trucks will be sold this year in the U.S., while 290,000 will be bought in Europe, according to estimates from Volvo.

2016 Bloomberg L.P.