A Sad Day? Continental Motors Sold to Chinese Firm
Earlier today Continental Motors' parent company Teledyne Techynologies announced that it had sold the iconic American aircraft engine manufacturer to a Chinese company, Technify Motor.
The Chinese company's parent-holding company, AVIC International, paid $186 million for Continental, which as part of the deal, says Teledyne, will maintain its existing plant in Mobile, Alabama, at the Mobile Downtown Airport. The purchase also includes Continental's facilities in Fairhope, Alabama, and Mattituck, New York.
Continental employs around 400 people, and the committment to keep operations in Mobile was critical to the deal, in part, one presumes, because Teledyne is sensitive to the concern among many that it is selling an American treasure to foreign investors.
Continental has been making aircraft engines since 1929. Its engines powered the early Cub, and its C65 was developed into the O-200, which powered the Cessna 150. It became one of the most produced engines of all time. Over the decades, Continental and Cessna were close partners on dozens of other models, and Continental's engines were used on dozens of other manufacturers' airplanes. It has also over years built engines for tanks . . . and cruise missiles, too.
There are today tens of thousands of Continental engines powering the airplanes we fly. Pilots know the brand, trust the brand and, yes, even love the brand. After all, we pilots, especially those of us who fly single-engine airplanes, have a special bond of trust with the folks who built the powerplant, even if we've never met one of them face to face.
The deal would help Continental capture a substantial share of an emerging Chinese piston aviation market, which if it happens would supposedly benefit Mobile and the United States by being good for Continental's business. Though it's hard to imagine Chinese owners keep all manufacturing in Alabama to support an emerging aviation movement on their home turf. It wouldn't make sense. No one, however, thinks the Chinese personal aviation market is going to boom any time soon.
Then what does the sale of legendary American engine manufacturer mean to U.S. pilots?
In the near term, it likely will mean little or nothing. In the long term, it's much harder to say. Anyone who thinks that promises to keep manufacturing in the United States are ironclad is being naive. In other industries where China has made technology purchases, it has sometimes simply taken the technology and expertise and moved production to China.
The good news is that even in a slumping economy, building engines and overhauling them is a good business, and most of the piston powered airplanes in the world are right here in the United States. It wouldn't make sense for the company to in any way abandon this most crucial market.
And I think it would be difficult for Technify to at any point soon move operations to China. Selling an airplane with a engine built by an American company with Chinese owners shouldn't be too tough a pitch to make. Selling a U.S.-built airplane with an engine built in China will likely be a deal breaker. I know it would be for me.