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Continental is said to consider major overhaul, possible breakup

[FRANKFURT] Continental is in exploratory talks with advisers on what could amount to its biggest-ever overhaul and possible breakup of the German auto-parts supplier, according to people familiar with the matter.

Under scenarios being discussed, Continental could create a holding company for its divisions and then list shares of the more profitable units, such as the tire business, or combine some operations with rivals, said the people, who declined to be identified because the matter is private. The review remains at an early stage, with no decision on whether the changes will be carried out, they said.

Continental spokesman Felix Gress declined to comment on "speculation". A reorganisation at one of the world's largest car-component makers would come at a time when the industry is faced with a momentous shift to electric and self-driving vehicles. Other companies including premium-vehicle maker Daimler, parts suppliers Delphi Technologies and Autoliv have also carried out recent changes in the way they are organised.

Any move by Continental will need the blessing of the Schaeffler family, the largest shareholder with a roughly 45 per cent stake. At the height of the financial crisis in 2008, the ball bearing and powertrain-manufacturing company, now called Schaeffler, nearly went bankrupt when its 17 billion-euro (S$27.14 billion) takeover approach for Continental backfired.

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Continental, which is based in Hanover, Germany and has forecast more than 44 billion euros in annual revenue, has two main divisions. The automotive unit makes chassis and safety parts as well as interiors and large powertrains, while the rubber business combines the company's namesake tire brand and ContiTech, a maker of conveyor belts for off-road vehicles like snow mobiles.

Untangling operations with little or no overlap has emerged as an industry trend, with Daimler saying in October it would create a holding company for its three separate units by 2019. Earlier in 2017, Delphi and Sweden's Autoliv both moved to split in two parts to give electronics and self-driving car activities more flexibility.

Delphi early last year held talks with Continental on a potential tie-up of their powertrain divisions, people familiar with the matter told Bloomberg News at the time.

Investors generally embrace breakups like the ones of Delphi and Autoliv, Sanford Bernstein analyst Max Warburton said in a note in November, adding that Continental's shareholders should push for a similar change.

"We've previously made calls for Conti to split itself up, arguing that its numerous divisions do not sit well together," he wrote.

Continental is due to release preliminary results for 2017 at a Capital Markets Day in Las Vegas later Tuesday.

BLOOMBERG