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Update on Kawasaki/Suzuki merger

From Tokyo, Dec. 12 (Bloomberg) -- Kawasaki Heavy Industries Ltd. and Suzuki Motor Corp. may merge their motorcycle operations to help cut excess capacity and development costs as domestic motorbikes sales sag.

``It's extremely likely that we'll set up a joint venture,'' said Kawasaki Heavy president Masamoto Tazaki in an interview. ``Kawasaki and Suzuki are trying as hard as they can to eliminate the divisions in our companies and compete against Honda (Motor Co.) and Yamaha (Motor Co.) as the Kawasaki-Suzuki group.''

A merger of the two companies' motorcycle units would extend a plan under way since August to combine output and development of several models...

The reduction of surplus capacity in Japan's motorcycle industry is long overdue with domestic sales now less than a third of their peak two decades ago, analysts said.

``The two companies are pretty effective and their merger in motorcycles will be good,'' said Dai Nishiyama, who helps manages about 1 trillion yen ($7.9 billion) in assets at SG Yamaichi Asset Management Co. ``As to which company's shareholder will benefit from the merger, it really depends on how the pact takes place.''

Kawasaki Heavy shares had their biggest gain in two week, rising as much as 4.4 percent to 119 yen while Suzuki shares gained a much as 2.4 percent to 1,314 yen in Tokyo trading. General Motors Corp. owns 20 percent of Suzuki.

Kawasaki Heavy, the maker of the Ninja sport bike, and Suzuki, the world's No. 3 motorcycle maker, lag Honda and Yamaha, which together control 82 percent of the Japanese market.

A future agreement to combine the motorcycle businesses would probably see both companies' two-wheeler divisions separated to form a jointly held entity, Tazaki said.

``Suzuki would separate its motorcycle division from its car business and spin it off,'' said Kawasaki Heavy's Tazaki. ``Motorcycles are just one part of our company so we could spin that off and join the businesses together.''

The company plans to unveil a new motorcycle with Suzuki under a new brand in three years.

``It won't be a Kawasaki, it won't be a Suzuki it will be a third brand,'' said Tazaki.

Domestic sales of motorcycles in the first 11 months of this year have fallen 4.3 percent to 969,000 units, the Japan Automobile Manufactures Association said.

Kawasaki Heavy said last month its loss in the first half ended Sept. 30 narrowed by 81 percent to 2.3 billion yen while Suzuki said group net profit in the half rose 2.3 percent to 11.1 billion yen.

Kawasaki Heavy expects a full-year profit of 7 billion yen on sales of 1.15 trillion yen. Suzuki expects a profit of 21 billion yen for the year to March 2002.

``Once measures to withdraw from some of the poorer businesses are more concretely laid out you'll probably see more investor interest'' in Kawasaki Heavy, said Masanori Wakae an analyst at Shinko Securities Co.

Kawasaki Heavy builds ships and rail cars, factory machinery including robots and aircraft components for Boeing Co.'s 767 and 777 jetliners.

Moody's Investors Service said last week it may cut Kawasaki Heavy's credit rating because of slumping demand for aircraft and industrial equipment. The machinery maker's efforts to generate more aerospace sales are being stymied by the drop in air travel that has forced customer Boeing to scale back production.

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