Germany believes the management of General Motors Company is still committed to finding a buyer for its European unit Opel/Vauxhall, government officials said after talks with the US carmaker in Berlin.
At a meeting last Friday, GM’s board of directors postponed a decision on management’s proposals to relinquish a controlling stake in Opel either to Canadian automotive group Magna International or Belgium-based finance investor RHJ.
A GM source told Reuters Newsagency after the latest talks that the company was considering a third alternative that would see it inject billions of dollars into Opel to hold onto the company, although people close to the talks believe this is a bargaining tactic.
The formerly bankrupt US carmaker, which is a ward of the state, would need to raise €1.5 billion (US$2.15 billion) just to pay back the German government’s bridge loan before it then could raise enough money to fund Opel’s operations until it generates cash itself.
“By not selling Opel/Vauxhall, GM has essentially two options — providing €3 billion (US$4.3 billion) to continue operations (less than the 4.5 billion promised by the German government) or liquidation,” credit analysts at UniCredit said.
After Tuesday’s meeting with Germany’s Opel taskforce in Berlin, however, GM’s management board “had made it clear” it was still interested in a buyer, a German official told Reuters on condition of anonymity.
Economy Minister Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg later said that GM management was still telling Germany it is “interested in an investor solution,” but that the GM board may have baulked at making a decision because its new members are not up to speed with negotiations.
“It seems they don’t really have a good idea of the state of negotiations…. I must say this lies in a knowledge deficit,” he said in an interview with ZDF television.
One major sticking point preventing GM from picking Germany’s preferred candidate, Magna, was Berlin’s insistence that Opel still has access to GM’s centralised patent unit GTO, a company source close to the talks told Reuters.
Last week’s failure to choose a buyer disappointed both politicians and labour unions in Germany, with unions threatening “spectacular measures” to force a decision.
Opel’s senior labour leader, Klaus Franz, told Reuters on Tuesday that the 25,000 German workers would not contribute the US$1.2 billion in structural costs requested by management if GM refused to sell to Magna.
Talks to sell Opel have dragged on for months and are a political hot potato ahead of German elections in September, because of the state support required for the eventual buyer.
Despite prodding from GM’s top negotiator on the deal, John Smith, Chancellor Angela Merkel and the German states refused to back RHJ, the rival bidder that is believed to be disposed to selling Opel back to GM at a later date, over their preference of Magna.