Despite reports last week that U.S. auto giant General Motors and Russia's AvtoVAZ had concluded a long-awaited $500 million joint venture deal, both companies declined to confirm that the final decision on the project had been made.
Several news media quoted "a source close to the negotiations" last week saying that the GM board had approved the project, but neither GM nor AvtoVAZ Russia's largest automotive manufacturer has issued any official statement.
Henry Wong, a GM spokesman in Detroit, confirmed that a GM board meeting took place Tuesday, but he declined to say whether the joint venture project was discussed at the meeting and what decision was made. "We do not disclose the agenda that is discussed at GM board meetings," he said.
He refused to comment on press reports about the conclusion of the deal. "We've read a lot of things about [the GM-AvtoVAZ project], but we don't comment on [reports] that are not announced by us," he added.
The AvtoVAZ press service said it had no official information on the final decision. "So far, it is only possible to speak about successful progress of negotiations and the closeness of interests of AvtoVAZ, General Motors and [the third prospective partner in the joint venture] the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD)," it said.
Vladimir Artsykov, an AvtoVAZ spokesman, said his company completed its part of preparatory work long ago and that it was now up to GM to make a final decision. Analysts say unofficial statements about the finalizing of the GM-AvtoVAZ deal are nothing new. "There have been numerous statements about the project in the last two years," said Alexander Andreyev, an analyst at Brunswick UBS Warburg in Moscow, adding that the two main negotiating parties probably failed to work out a concerted and consistent PR policy.
"[AvtoVAZ board chairman Vladimir] Kadannikov has repeatedly said that the deal was about to be finalized, but it has not yet happened," Andreyev said.
Talks between the U.S. corporation and AvtoVAZ have been in progress for more than three years, during which the agenda of the joint project has changed several times. Under a plan submitted to GM by AvtoVAZ last year, the joint venture was to annually make 75,000 Niva 2123 sport-utility cars and 15,000 Opel Astra T-3000s. Production was expected to start in September 2002.
AvtoVAZ estimated the total worth of the project at $500 million, of which it would provide a half in land, production facilities and know-how, and the foreign partners would provide the rest in cash.
Last summer, the EBRD announced it was considering joining the project. A spokesman for the EBRD said last week that a decision on the bank's participation is expected soon, but he declined to give a more precise indication.
According to one report, the EBRD is expected to release a $90 million loan to AvtoVAZ and invest another $40 million for a 17 percent stake in the joint venture.