Editor's note: An earlier version of this story incorrectly described one aspect of the companies' dispute over Suzuki's A-star minicar. The disagreement centered on laser welding and spot welding.
It was a tense, two-hour summit at the Frankfurt Sheraton hotel.
For months, Suzuki Motor Corp. and Volkswagen AG had been sparring over their unraveling alliance. Now, Suzuki Executive Vice President Yasuhito Harayama was about to drop a bombshell.
The date: Sept. 9, 2011, days before the Frankfurt auto show.
VW, Harayama warned, had three days to say whether it would start negotiating an end to the ill-fated capital tie-up with Suzuki, or Suzuki would go public with its demand that VW sell off its 19.9 percent stake.
Chairman Osamu Suzuki, who had inked the much-ballyhooed alliance with VW a mere 21 months earlier, already was preparing for a news conference the following Monday in Tokyo -- where he would blast his German partner as a "ball and chain" and demand a "divorce."
A filing to the Tokyo Stock Exchange was all ready to go.
Harayama, a feisty negotiator hired by Suzuki from Japan's powerful Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry, had flown to Germany to deliver the ultimatum to VW Vice President Detlef Wittig.
"The alliance is meaningless," Harayama told his interlocutor, according to internal Suzukidocuments chronicling the demise of the alliance that were obtained by Automotive News.
"Our engineers have lost the desire to cooperate with VW."
A tipping point, Harayama added, came during an earlier top management meeting. The Suzuki side presented VW CEO Martin Winterkorn a list of complaints. But the tactic backfired.
According to Suzuki's version of events, instead of contemplating Suzuki's suggestions for mending relations, the ticked-off German surprised the Japanese by pounding the table in irritation.
"With this, we understood that it is impossible to work with top management to resolve the front-line problems," Harayama told an off-guard Wittig, who insisted he hadn't come to the meeting to negotiate with Harayama. "We want a 'yes' or 'no' answer about whether we will hold joint discussions," Harayama demanded before excusing himself to catch his flight home.
A satisfactory answer never came. The next Monday, Osamu Suzuki, the bushy-browed patriarch of the tiny Japanese maker, went in front of the press to demand his "divorce" from the German giant.
In an era in which industry consolidation is again being urged by leaders such as Fiat Chrysler Automobiles CEO Sergio Marchionne, the VW-Suzuki tie-up provides a cautionary tale. Common wisdom held that it would be a boon to both players. Suzuki would gain access to next-generation, fuel-efficient powertrain technologies and advanced markets while VW would get help tapping India and learn low-cost manufacturing.
Yet two years later, the honeymoon came to a crashing halt without the realization of a single joint project.