DETROIT — Ford Motor Co.'s outgoing chairman, Alex Trotman, on Monday kicked off a new round of speculation that the No. 2 car maker might be looking to acquire another automotive company.
Trotman, who will retire at the end of the year, said Ford is open to the possibility of a merger with another auto maker, but he denied meeting with BMW's major shareholder, according to German newspaper Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung.
Jim Cain, a Ford spokesman in Detroit, said statements attributed to Trotman by the newspaper were accurate.
"If you look at the things that are already in the water, our interest in [South Korean auto maker] Kia, the stake we have in Mazda , it is self-evident we would consider partners," Cain said.
He pointed out, however, that Ford's size and the Ford family's large equity stake--40% of shareholder voting power--make an acquisition more likely than a merger.
Ford shares rose $1.06 to close at $49.19 on the New York Stock Exchange.
Ford owns one-third of Japanese auto maker Mazda Motor Corp. and, including Mazda's stake, more than 16% of Kia Motors Corp., which is in bankruptcy protection.
Since Chrysler Corp.'s announcement in May that it would merge with Germany's Daimler-Benz, industry analysts and executives have discussed the possibility of more deals resulting as competition around the world intensifies.
Many executives have said they expect the number of auto makers worldwide to shrink drastically during the next few decades through mergers and acquisitions, from more than 20 now to six or seven larger companies.
Trotman did not name any potential targets for Ford and denied rumors he had met with the Quandt family, which owns 49% of BMW's shares. The Quandt family denied earlier reports that it was willing to sell its stake in the German auto maker to Volkswagen.
Analysts' speculation about Ford in the past has centered on Italy's Fiat, with which Ford discussed merging in the 1980s, as well as an increase in its Mazda stake. Ford has said it wants to increase its Asian market share to 10% by 2005.