SEOUL - If Ford Motor Co. takes the wheel of Kia Motors Corp. - as seems increasingly likely here - upstart Samsung Motors likely will not be along for the ride.
Both sides acknowledged last week that talks aimed at Ford taking a stake in Samsung have foundered.
Neither party would reveal details, but the talks are believed to have stumbled over the scope of Ford's equity participation, and how best to share Kia.
'We have different perspective and opinions,' said Yoon Jong-Ho, executive managing director of Samsung Motors.
Samsung is eager to acquire ailing Kia, but cannot afford a solo bid. By some estimates, its entry into the automobile business - it began producing a lightly reskinned version of the Nissan Cefiro earlier this year - has cost it more than $5 billion.
Ford, with affiliate Mazda Motor Corp., already owns 16.9 percent of Kia, and Samsung has tried to figure out a way for Ford to share the burden.
WANTED: FORD SUBCOMPACT
Samsung has hoped to add Ford products, particularly an entry-level subcompact, to its local lineup to increase usage of its new plant in Pusan, which is running at less than one-third of its rated capacity of 250,000 cars a year.
'I don't think Ford has any real interest in acquiring any part of Samsung,' said Kim Noi-Myung, executive managing director of Hyundai Motor Co., Korea's biggest automaker.
'There's no possible merit or synergy. But Kia is good for Ford.'
Ford appears to be zeroing in on how to shore up Kia's battered finances. The automaker, which is now in receivership, is weighed down by an estimated $6 billion in debt.
According to Kia insiders, Ford financial officers have combed through Kia's books as part of the due diligence that precedes an investment decision.
Ford reportedly wants management control, but first wants to enlist the support of Kia's creditor banks.
However, Daewoo Group Chairman Kim Woo-Choong clouded the issue last week by calling for Hyundai to join Daewoo in a joint takeover of Kia.
In an interview in Germany, Kim said the Korean auto industry can no longer support four principal players - Hyundai, Daewoo, Kia and Samsung. Instead, the industry should be restructured into two players, Hyundai and Daewoo, to be more competitive, he said.
'A Ford takeover of Kia Motors would not help solve the problem of oversupply in the domestic auto market and would go against the efficient restructuring of Korea's auto industry,' he said.
'Although Hyundai has made a public announcement about its intention to take over Kia Motors, it still lacks a substantial plan in approaching the issue. I think Hyundai and Daewoo need to establish a strategic alliance ... as the best way for both companies to win the bid.'
Kim's comments only raised eyebrows at Hyundai. 'We haven't had any talks with Daewoo,' said a spokesman. 'There's no consensus on this.'