Navistar

Volkswagen AG will buy a stake in Navistar International Corp. (NYSE: NAV) to gain a foothold in the U.S. heavy-truck market, taking a gamble on a struggling U.S. manufacturer as the German company still grapples with the fallout from the emissions-cheating scandal.

VW will pay $256 million for a 16.6 percent holding and assume two board seats as part of a deal that includes technology sharing and joint purchasing, the two companies said. The Wolfsburg-based automaker will pay $15.76 per share. The holding puts Volkswagen on par with the largest shareholders, activist investors Carl Icahn and Mark Rachesky.

“Closer collaboration among our existing brands was a top priority for our commercial vehicles business and we are well on track in this context,” Andreas Renschler, head of the German carmaker’s Volkswagen Truck & Bus division, said in the statement. “We are now taking the next step on our way to becoming a global champion in the commercial-vehicles industry.”

Gaining traction in the U.S. heavy-truck market, dominated by Daimler AG, Volvo AB and Paccar Inc., is key to VW’s plan to forge a global commercial-vehicle operation with higher profit margins than rivals. The marriage isn’t without risk given Navistar’s shrinking market share in the U.S., a country that has also confounded VW. Even before the diesel-cheating scandal, Volkswagen’s car sales were slipping behind competitors in the region.

“Navistar has a volatile history and struggles with eroding market share,” says Roman Mathyssek, a consultant with Arthur D. Little in Munich. “Via know-how from their truck brands Scania and MAN, VW could unlock value at Navistar.”

Working with Navistar will provide access to technology and designs targeting customers in the U.S., where model lines are wholly different from offerings in the rest of the world. Many U.S. truck drivers prefer vehicles with an elongated nose, while European operators buy trucks with a flat face due to length restrictions. Volkswagen, Europe’s biggest carmaker, hired Renschler away from Daimler’s truck unit to push a stalled plan to deepen cooperation between its MAN and Scania brands.

Munich-based MAN and Swedish counterpart Scania don’t sell vehicles in the U.S., and the group’s only other large truckmaking operation is a VW-brand division in Brazil focused on Latin America. MAN has a Chinese joint venture with local affiliate Sinotruk Hong Kong Ltd. that sells models in Asia. Entering the U.S. will give VW access to a market a bit smaller than its current home region. Around 240,000 trucks will be sold this year in the U.S., while 290,000 will be bought in Europe, according to estimates from Volvo.

Volkswagen Truck & Bus was created in 2015 after the carmaker accumulated majority control of MAN and Scania over the previous decade. The unit has been largely unaffected by the diesel-emissions scandal that erupted at the group’s car operations a year ago. It’s targeting 1 billion euros ($1.12 billion) in long-term cost savings through closer collaboration among its brands. Renschler has said VW is keeping all options open as part of his expansion strategy, including acquisitions and a possible share sale.

VW and Navistar expect to reap combined synergies of $500 million over the next five years, they said. Navistar  posted its first profit in 14 quarters in the three months through April, helped by spending cuts.

The Lisle, Illinois-based company is no stranger to dramatic consequences from emissions-related troubles. The truckmaker had to kill most versions of its so-called premium vocational models in 2010 because they lacked diesel engines that complied with U.S. federal air-pollution rules. Navistar’s market share has tanked since its pollution-control technology failed to meet industry standards and brought the company to the brink of collapse.

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