TOKYO - In a move that could foreshadow equity links, Nissan Motor Co. Ltd. and Hitachi Ltd. said last week they are studying ways to work together on intelligent transportation systems.
The companies, both members of the financially troubled Fuyo Group, said the study could result in Hitachi's buying a stake in Unisia JECS Corp., a Nissan supplier. Hitachi either would take a new allotment of shares or buy out part of Nissan's 29.6 percent stake, the companies said.
Although the size and amount of the purchase has not been decided, the goal would be for Hitachi to emerge as Unisia's second-largest shareholder, after Nissan but ahead of the current No. 2, Germany's Robert Bosch GmbH, with 10.1 percent.
Hitachi sells about 40 percent of its automotive products to Nissan, but the two companies' ties are neither as strong nor as successful as the ties between Toyota Motor Corp. and its lead electronics supplier, Denso Corp. The combined sales of Unisia JECS and Hitachi's auto parts division are about $3.3 billion, compared with Denso's $13.1 billion.
Several times in the past 30 years, Nissan or Hitachi has suggested a pooling of assets, only to be turned down by the other party. Since 1994, Nissan, Hitachi and Unisia have worked together on developing powertrain control systems.
Separately, Nissan moved liabilities valued at about ¥100 billion, or $835 million at current exchange rates, off its books by selling its equipment leasing unit to an arm of Industrial Bank of Japan Ltd.
By spinning off its leasing unit and selling 90 percent of the new company to IBJ Leasing Co., Nissan in one swoop achieves about one-quarter of its targeted $3.3 billion debt-reduction for the current fiscal year, which ends next March. Nissan's consolidated interest-bearing liabilities stood at $20.8 billion at the end of March; it plans to cut them to $12.5 billion by the end of March 2001.
A price has not been set for Nissan Leasing Co., but IBJ Leasing said it probably will pay between $33 million and $42 million for the unit.
Nissan Leasing Co. leases dies and other production machinery, plus office equipment, to Nissan Group companies.