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Failed Alstom bid rocks MHI’s global strategy

by Shinsuke Takahashi and Shinya Ajima

Kyodo

The failure of Mitsubishi Heavy Industries Ltd. to acquire the energy-system assets of France’s Alstom SA has put the Japanese engineering group at the risk of falling far behind U.S. rival General Electric Co.

“It will be troubling for us if GE wins (the bid for Alstom). It’s a great threat,” a senior Mitsubishi Heavy official said earlier this month.

The concern became reality over the weekend when the Alstom board decided to continue to support GE’s offer, which had earlier met calls for revision from the French government. Paris eventually gave the green light to the $16.9 billion offer to buy most of the French industrial group’s energy business.

On June 11, Mitsubishi Heavy announced it would join a battle between GE and Siemens AG for Alstom, aligning with the German electronics conglomerate. Analysts then pointed out the move suggests the particular concern held by the Japanese group over GE as the two compete in the gas turbines business.

Alstom’s assets are expected to raise GE’s global share of the business to more than 50 percent, which would be a serious blow to MHI.

MHI launched a new group firm this year with partner Hitachi Ltd. in an attempt to close in on rivals GE and Siemens.

Mitsubishi Hitachi Power Systems Ltd. combined the thermal businesses of Japan’s two biggest engineering firms. On its first day of business in February, it declared its intention to become “the world’s No. 1 in the thermal power and environmental businesses.”

President Takato Nishizawa told his staff the new company, 65 percent owned by Mitsubishi Heavy and 35 percent by Hitachi, aims to achieve annual revenues of “around ¥2 trillion ($19.6 billion) by 2020,” which would amount to almost double the combined revenues of the two thermal businesses prior to tying up.

GE makes around $15 billion a year in thermal-business revenues and Alstom more than $10 billion.

Mitsubishi Hitachi Power was created on expectations of a synergy between Mitsubishi Heavy specializing in large gas turbines and Hitachi in small- and midsize ones. On marketing, the former has established a network in China and Southeast Asia and the latter in Europe and Africa, according to industry sources.

They are expecting to expand business abroad, eyeing growing energy demand from emerging economies while also taking heart from more discoveries and increasing use of shale gas, which has made natural gas a more attractive fuel for power stations, as the nuclear business in Japan has been under strain following the Fukushima meltdowns in 2011.

Given the failure to win Alstom, focus shifts now to how Mitsubishi Heavy could revive its global strategy and possibly go back on the offensive.

One possibility is to enhance the relationship with Siemens and use the German giant’s networks in Europe, which fit in with Mitsubishi Hitachi Power’s ambitions to expand beyond Asia.

“While valuing our (existing) cooperation with Areva (SA of France), we will also continue to seek to expand business with an eye on a possible tie-up with other companies leading the industry,” Mitsubishi Heavy said in a statement Saturday.

The alliance between Mitsubishi Heavy and Areva has borne fruit.

A joint venture between the companies won a contract last year in Turkey to construct a nuclear power plant with advanced reactors, the first development since the Fukushima disaster, strongly backed by the Japanese government, which is keen to promote infrastructure exports to rapidly developing countries.