When Auto Companies Fight: Suzuki and VW

Why aren't they looking at each other?

Chairman Osamu Suzuki appears to be hopping mad. Volkswagen’s chairman Martin Winterkorn is playing it cool. The companies are splitting apart after less than two years of an unworkable relationship.

In a way, the whole thing seems to have unraveled because of a clash of cultures—not just business cultures but national cultures.

In March in its 2010 annual report, Volkswagen referred to Suzuki as an “associate over which Volkswagen has significant influence on financial and operating policy decisions.” Mr. Suzuki, a feisty 81, hit the ceiling, as he had assumed he was in “an equal partnership” (or something like that) with VW.

In other words, he got no respect, and that’s pretty important in Japan.

Aside from all the other problems that ensued (keep reading), the reason is that VW had purchased nearly 20 percent of Suzuki’s stock and, presumably, felt entitled to make that “associate” statement.

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