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Recycling of Capacity in a Tough Market

Sweden is a small country with a proud tradition of producing tough, high-end, automobiles. We call these high-end products Performance Leaders. In a hostile market, a Performance Leader usually suffers from scale disadvantages compared to the much larger industry leaders, whom we call Standard Leaders. Often, these Performance Leaders become acquisitions for the industry’s Standard Leaders. (See the Symptom & Implication, “The industry is consolidating through mergers and acquisitions” on StrategyStreet.com.) That was the case when GM bought Saab and Ford bought Volvo.

Both of these automobile industry Standard Leaders operated their Swedish acquisitions as separate companies. However, as GM and Ford themselves faltered in the market, they both decided to jettison their foreign high-end products. Spyker Cars NV, a Dutch company, has purchased Saab from General Motors. China’s Geely Automobile Holdings Ltd. has purchased Volvo from Ford. Both the Saab and the Volvo brands, then, will continue into the future.

These purchases illustrate the sometimes difficult workings of a hostile marketplace. (See “Video #10: Industry Consolidation and Recycling of Capacity” on StrategyStreet.com.) Both Volvo and Saab were failing as stand-alone Performance Leader competitors. But they did not go out of business. Instead, larger industry Standard Leaders bought them and kept their capacity in operation. This is a first example of the recycling of brands, but more particularly, productive capacity in an industry that already had too much of it. Neither GM nor Ford was able to make a go of it with these Performance Leader brands. Rather than shut the brands and their productive capacity down, however, both the Standard Leaders found willing buyers for the brands and their industry capacity. This is the second example of recycling of the same capacity. In each case, the buyer got the company and its capacity for a cost below the book value of the original seller.

We have found this recycling of capacity to occur in virtually every industry that goes through over-capacity and hostile times. Capacity will not go away until it cannot produce cash for any owner. The recent closing of the San Francisco Bay Area Nummi plant, once co-owned by GM and Toyota, is a clear indication that the plant can no longer produce cash as an automobile plant. It may finally stop producing automobiles forever. It is worth noting, however, that this was a GM automobile plant before it became Nummi. It had already been recycled once in the mid-1980s.

Posted 4/15/10