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August 14, 2020 | International, Land

AM General CEO on acquisition by a private equity firm

WASHINGTON ― KPS Capital Partners is acquiring Humvee-maker AM General, the private equity firm announced last month, marking a new chapter for the South Bend, Indiana-based vehicle maker.

AM General President and CEO Andy Hove will continue to lead the company, and KPS Partner Jay Bernstein said the firm would continue to build on the ubiquitous Humvee, leveraging the company's “research, technology, innovation and new product development, as well as its heritage and iconic brand name.”

The Humvee appears to have some growth ahead. For one, U.S. Army budget documents call for $1.5 billion through 2025 to pay for modernization of its fleet of High Mobility Multipurpose Wheeled Vehicles and their up-armored variant. That can include replacing major components, applying new technologies or replacing vehicles entirely. After the Army reaches its procurement objective for the Joint Light Tactical Vehicle, made by Oshkosh, it will have an enduring requirement for 54,800 Humvees.

Otherwise, AM General ― which has advertised both its Brutus 155mm and Hawkeye 105mm mobile howitzers ― is expected to participate in the Army's mobile howitzer shoot-off evaluation at Yuma Proving Ground, Arizona, next year.

Meanwhile, the Army is expected to complete a new tactical wheeled vehicle strategy in fiscal 2021, which has thus far received congressional support, per the House and Senate versions of the annual defense policy bill.

Hove, who has said KPS will continue to execute AM General's existing strategy, spoke with Defense News on Aug. 6. This interview has been edited for brevity and clarity.

Private equity firm KPS Capital Partners is in the process of acquiring AM General. At this preliminary stage, what would you say are KPS' plans and vision for the company?

I think [KPS partner] Jay Bernstein represented it in his quote in the announcement that they feel really good about the capabilities of AM General and the strategy we've been executing. We've discussed with them where we can go. They're confident in our business and the growth prospects of AM General. They feel good about and stand behind our strategy, and we're going to work together with them.

Will the company focus more on the Humvee, or do you see it becoming more flexible? What is the future for the Humvee? Who are its customers these days?

To say we're only focused on the Humvee today would not be a correct premise. We've made investments across the board, in base automotive systems, and then automotive systems that have a particular special use. Our core focus is in solving very complex mobility challenges for customers. So the Humvee has a great future. I would offer that you turn to not what I say about what the Army will do but what the Army says they're going to do on the Humvee fleet, which is to steadily and systematically manage a very large fleet by systematic replacement of that fleet and recapitalization of that fleet going forward.

They've been buying new-built Humvees to replace old Humvees over the last four years at a pretty heavy clip and have announced their intention to continue to do that going forward.

We're obviously going to focus on the Humvee because there's significant demand. It is today the world's leading military 4x4 in its class, and we build more of them than any other military vehicle manufacturer in the world, and especially more than anybody in our weight class.

That won't be the only thing we invest in. You can see our investments in the Hawkeye, which brings game-changing breakthrough technology [in relation to] how artillery systems are moved around and employed on the battlefield, together with a whole other range of implementing technologies such as autonomous navigation, off-board power and those kind of things. The U.S. Defense Department is an important customer, but a considerable portion of our businesses is global business, so we take a global view of how we solve mobility challenges for our customers around the globe.

The Army recently issued a request for information about replacing heavy trucks. Is that a potential opportunity?

We certainly feel like we have something to offer, a range of things to offer there, and that RFI's only been out for a couple of weeks. We'll will certainly take a closer look at that. We're also taking a look at the JLTV competition they announced back in February.

Defense News recently characterized AM General as “largely stagnant” since losing the competition for the JLTV in 2015 to Oshkosh. Do you want to push back at all to talk about AM General's time under McAndrew & Forbes?

The JLTV decision was 2015, and the four years since the announcement on the JLTV competition we've built more military vehicles than Oshkosh or any other military vehicle manufacturer by a long shot, and sold them to more customers around the globe than anyone else. I think that's far from being stagnant. There are a lot of adjectives you can apply to the company. “Stagnant” would not be the one I would apply.

Private equity firms will typically set up companies they buy for faster growth, and then potentially that'll lead to a future sale. Do you think that's something that might happen here, and what do you predict? Is there any indication of time horizons for KPS?

KPS has made a lot of smart investments, they have a pattern, but they're not going to be pigeonholed into a particular time frame for a next-step strategy.

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