Renault Chairman Louis Schweitzer does not rule out buying Volvo Car Corp., amid reports that the Swedish luxury brand is unhappy as part of the Ford Motor Co.
Schweitzer, a keynote speaker at the Automotive News Europe Congress, was asked whether Renault would be interested in buying Volvo from Ford if the US-based manufacturer decides to sell it.
"If the price was right, yes," Schweitzer said.
He later told journalists that Volvo was a "great brand" as well as a profitable one -- "and that's why I believe Ford won't sell Volvo." But there was "absolutely no talk" about it between Ford and Renault, he added.
But Schweitzer's comments on the Swedish carmaker, which he previously tried to acquire in the early 1990s, contrast with remarks he made to Automotive News Europe last November.
"The objective is to grow organically," he said then.
Schweitzer's apparent change of tack comes after an article in French daily La Tribune earlier this month said executives at both Renault and Volvo were toying with the idea of renewing the partnership that fell apart in 1993.
Meanwhile, some Volvo executives have been complaining about their lack of autonomy within Ford's Premier Automotive Group, which also includes Aston Martin, Land Rover and Jaguar.
Ford has denied any intention of getting rid of Volvo.
"Absolutely not," said PAG CEO Mark Fields, when asked at the Automotive News Europe Congress whether Ford would sell Volvo. "I did not come over to PAG to preside over an auction."
The speculation on Renault wooing Volvo again comes as the French brand's latest attempt to gain a luxury-market foothold appears to be failing. Schweitzer admitted that sales of its Vel Satis flagship have been "disappointing."
Besides, the production of the Avantime luxury coupe that Renault co-developed with coachbuilder Matra Automobile was stopped last February barely one year after its launch.
Schweitzer made clear Renault remains determined to compete in the premium segment.
"When Vel Satis will near the end of its life, we must think how to go about it, with Nissan," he said.
Nissan has its own luxury brand, Infiniti. However, it does not plan to launch Infiniti in Europe as long as it has no diesel engines. (See Patrick Pelata story on this page.)
Schweitzer was a strong supporter of the alliance between the French and Swedish companies in the early 1990s.
In Renault's view, it failed largely because of cultural frictions and because Volvo did not feel it needed Renault. This was unlike Renault's acquisition of a controlling stake in Nissan in 1999. Nissan was on the verge of bankruptcy before Renault agreed to invest $5 billion into the venture.
At the time, the car industry met Renault's move with great skepticism, as Schweitzer recalled.
"At the time, a cousin of mine said Renault would be better off buying $5 billion worth of gold bars, heap them on a ship and dump them in the Pacific," he said. This cousin was then-Chrysler executive, now General Motors Vice-Chairman Bob Lutz, he added.