German Carmaker in Trouble: GM Considers Sale of European Opel Unit
US car giant General Motors appears to be ready to sell its subsiary Opel once again, amid continuing losses at the German firm, SPIEGEL has learned. When GM abandoned a 2009 effort to sell the firm, the decision caused deep-seated tensions between the American company and the government in Berlin.
It was one of the most drawn-out courtships involving a German company in recent years, and it fell through at the last moment. In 2009, United States car manufacturer General Motors put its German subsidiary Opel up for sale, because GM itself was faced with bankruptcy. After a bidding process that lasted over a year, involving Canadian-Austrian automotive supplier Magna and Italian carmaker Fiat as potential buyers and brokered by the German government, GM suddenly decided it no longer wanted to sell Opel.
Now it appears the whole process may soon start over again. According to information obtained by SPIEGEL and the German car magazine Auto Bild, General Motors is once again prepared to sell Opel. GM managers are increasingly annoyed that its European operations, whose core brands are Opel and its British sister company Vauxhall, are still making a loss, while all other regions are now generating a profit.
The managers in Detroit are apparently now convinced that the US parent is no longer dependent on Opel technology. GM now has access to fuel-efficient engines and models from its subsidiary GM Korea, formerly known as Daewoo. When asked in March how much time he gave Opel, GM's CEO Dan Akerson said he was "impatient."
Chinese Firms Could be Interested
Speculation about a possible sell-off has also been fueled by comments by Steve Rattner, who was appointed by US President Barack Obama to oversee the rescue of GM and Chrysler. In a recent interview with the German politics magazine Cicero, Rattner said that Akerson would not "accept" the continuing losses at Opel for much longer.
Potential buyers for Opel include Chinese auto companies as well as Volkswagen. The giant German carmaker could be interested in buying Opel to prevent its Chinese competitors getting access to the European market. Two years ago, when Opel was officially up for sale, VW executives already analyzed whether the brand would fit into the company's portfolio.
Opel itself is taking pains to play down talk of a divestment. When contacted by SPIEGEL, Opel CEO Karl-Friedrich Stracke said that reports of a sell-off were "clearly pure speculation," adding that the company would not comment on the rumors as a matter of principle. Klaus Franz, the head of Opel's works council, an employee-elected body that represents workers' interests, described the speculation as a "diversionary maneuver" on the part of its competitors to "distract attention from the fact that we are successful on the market again."
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