German minister seeks European counter buyout bid for industrial robot maker Kuka

The German government is trying to cobble an alternative takeover bid to counter Chinese home appliance maker Midea Group Co Ltd's €4.5-billion bid for industrial robot maker Kuka AG, economy minister Sigmar Gabriel said.

"There are efforts to table an alternative offer. Whether that materialises, we will see," Gabriel told reporters in Berlin yesterday.

Citing government and industry sources, German newspaper Sueddeutsche Zeitung yesterday reported that Gabriel is seeking to form an alliance of German or European companies to table a counter offer in order to prevent Kuka being sold to the Chinese company.

Last month, Chinese home appliance maker Midea Group, which is the second-largest shareholder in Kuka with an indirect 13.5-per cent stake, tabled an unsolicited €4.5 billion ($5.07 billion) buyout bid for the German factory robot manufacturer. (See: China's Midea Group offers to buy German factory robot manufacturer Kuka for $5.07 bn) The largest shareholder in Kuka is German privately-held engineering company Voith Group with 25.1 per cent, while German billionaire Friedhelm Loh holds 10 per cent through his holding company.

Although Kuka's CEO has welcomed the Chinese takeover bid, Midea may not be able to complete the deal unless Voith and Friedhelm Loh agree to sell their collective 35.1-per cent stake.

Founded in 1898 by Johann Joseph Keller and Jakob Knappich in Augsburg with the aim to produce affordable illumination for houses and streets, Kuka is today one of the world's leading suppliers of robot technology and plant and systems engineering.

With manufacturing plants in Michigan and Ohio, Kuka is one of the leading suppliers of manufacturing systems for the automotive industry in North America.

China is its strongest growth market for automation. The headquarters for its Asian business is located in Shanghai, where it opened a new robot production facility in 2014.

Founded in 1968, Shenzhen-listed Midea owns some of China's top air-conditioner, refrigerator and washing machine brands.

It has over 200 subsidiaries globally, employs around 100,000 people and has annual sales of over $21 billion.

Midea established its first overseas factory in 2007 near Ho Chi Minh City in Vietnam to manufacture rice cookers, air-conditioners and refrigerators.

The company has operations and production bases in Vietnam, Belarus, Egypt, Brazil, Argentina and India, and technology and partnerships with Carrier of the USA and Toshiba of Japan.

The company has recently been looking at overseas acquisitions in order to expand internationally.

In March, it agreed to acquire a controlling 80 per cent stake in Japanese conglomerate Toshiba Group's consumer-electronics arm for about $473 million.