By on June 9, 2011

Both Der Spiegel and Auto Bild write that GM could throw in the towel on Opel and will put the loss making European division up for sale. Both papers are known to have high-ranking inside sources, both in Wolfsburg and in Berlin.

Auto-Bild: “GM is slowly wising up to the fact that the reasons that led to the planned Opel sale in 2009 have not changed.”

According to the paper, the German government has picked up indications that GM wants to sell Opel  to unnamed parties in China. (Any guesses? Who’s building cars in China on Opel platforms?)

Now, says Auto-Bild, Berlin is worried about the yellow peril and turned to Volkswagen for help.

UPDATE: Reuters reports

“Akerson is fed up with Opel, and the turnaround isn’t gaining traction,” said a person familiar with the GM CEO’s thinking who declined to be named.

“He is trying to think of all possibilities to improve performance. But a sale is wishful thinking.”

Volkswagen is sitting on an €20 billion cash pile and could do the job quite easily. Now, Volkswagen has also interests in China, amongst them a joint venture with the same company that uses Opel platforms: SAIC.

Volkswagen declined to comment on the reports, which is always interesting.

Rainer Einenkel, head of the works council in Bochum said that Opel is doing fine. “Some people don’t like that. They try to disrupt our business with harassing fire and to unsettle our workforce.”

Klaus Franz, head of the works council of Opel said that news of a sale of Opel are “pure speculation” and appealed to GM to deny the rumors.

“GM remains silent,” writes Reuters Germany. “No comment from the HQ. The works council is missing a clear denial from the mother company.” [UPDATE: The AP [via Forbes] reports: Opel CEO Karl-Friedrich Stracke told employees in an internal letter viewed by The Associated Press not to let themselves be distracted by “rumors” and “speculation in the press.”]

Der Spiegel heard that “GM managers are increasingly frustrated that Opel continues to have losses while other regions show profits. The executives are said to be convinced that the mother ship is no longer dependant on Opel. Economic engines and platforms can also be obtained from GM Korea.”

According to Der Spiegel, VW had already studied how Opel could fit into the empire when Opel was up for sale two years ago. Auto Bild now hears from VW executives that Volkswagen’s new kit architecture could be used to sell Opel cars at an attractive price.

However, says Auto Bild, Volkswagen wants to stay in the shadows for the time being. This might change, says the paper “when Opel turns into a political issue, if Berlin needs a white knight, which can prevent the hemorrhaging of German technology and the concomitant loss of jobs with a German-German solution.”

Update: Reuters called on all its sources “familiar with the U.S. automaker.”  The deep throats told Reuters that “selling Opel was not realistic, playing down reports by two German magazines that the sale option was being explored again. However, the sources added Chief Executive Daniel Akerson is clearly frustrated with Opel’s inability to return to profitability.” A person close to Aklerson told Reuters that the boss “is fed up with Opel, and the turnaround isn’t gaining traction.” Anopther source told Reuters that GM may instead try to establish an alliance with another European automaker as a way to cut costs. “A Chinese partner also could be an option.”

This doesn’t sound like idle gossip on the Berlin cocktail circuit. Something is in the bush.

2nd Update: TTAC’s Speculatius Maximus  goes to Harald Hamprecht, Editor-in-Chief of Automotive News Europe, who points fingers at Dan Akerson:

“It’s time for a clear denial that Opel is for sale from Akerson himself. But maybe he still wants to wait. After all, fear of losing your job could easily make OpelVauxhall employees work even harder, instead of thinking they are out of the woods.”

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45 Comments on “Breaking: GM To Sell Opel – To The Chinese Or To VW?...”


  • avatar
    moedaman

    WHAT? Why would GM do that? Who’s going to design the non-suv portion of GM’s line-up? Are they going to farm that out to Korea and China?

    • 0 avatar
      aristurtle

      Holden, hopefully.

      (Wishful thinking, I know.)

    • 0 avatar
      Robert.Walter

      And if Atkerson gets his way with a gas tax increase, who is going to buy the SUV-portion of the GM line-up?

      • 0 avatar
        doctor olds

        @Robert.Walter- Akerson just wants to be able to sell the fleet mandated by upcoming CAFE standards. GM does very well in fuel economy these days. A V8 4WD Avalanche offers better mileage than a V6 4WD Honda Ridgeline, for example. Cruze is the highest mileage conventional gas engine car and is cheaper to operate than VW’s best diesel, probably even Prius when the $5,000 price premium is considered. GM, the whole industry, needs the market to demand more fuel economy or the next round of CAFE may just depress the whole industry. Akerson recognizes the functional way to drive societal interest in higher fuel efficiency is to make fuel more costly. That is the method used throughout the world. CAFE is a dysfunctional approach which is particularly harmful to our own automakers. CAFE should be discontinued.

    • 0 avatar
      bumpy ii

      You mean like they do right now?

      • 0 avatar
        krhodes1

        Except that while GM is very, very good at engineering to do very well on that very specific EPA test, thier vehicles tend not to make thier EPA numbers in the real world. Or anywhere near them.

        Which is great from a marketing and CAFE compliance perspective, but not so good if you bought one of those little SUVs with the ludicrous 36mpg highway rating and it is really getting 26mpg real-world like all the rest of its class. TANSTAAFL always applies, thier technology is no better than anyone elses.

      • 0 avatar
        doctor olds

        My friends Equinox gets over 30 MPG. He is very happy with it.

      • 0 avatar
        srogers

        We all have friends who don’t know how to calculate fuel economy. It’s nothing to be proud of. And the Cruze is not the most fuel efficient gas engine – I’m not sure what criteria “conventional” includes.

      • 0 avatar
        doctor olds

        @Srogers-Equinox gets great mileage, regardless of your biases. Cruze ECO 42MPG is the highest gas mileage “non-hybrid” (i.e. conventional) car available in the United States. Since Diesel fuel is more expensive, it is cheaper to operate than VW’s best diesel which edges Cruze Eco in the city rating. check for yourself with the compare side-by-side tool here: http://www.fueleconomy.gov/

        If I am mistaken, please list the vehicle and the EPA estimates. I suppose you will just claim they are made up, so what better source do you propose?

      • 0 avatar
        krhodes1

        @doctor-olds

        Again, those are “EPA estimates”, and have little to no bearing on real world performance. You CAN game the test, and GM is historically very good at it. All the way back to those late 70s GM cars that had fixed rear windows and some other oddball features? Why? Because it caused them to be slightly lighter, which put them in the next wieght class lower on the test. So on paper thier fuel economy was a couple mpg higher. But it made no difference at all in the real world, other than making thier cars seem that much crappier.

        And it is not just GM – does anyone not think that a Prius is not smart enough to recognize the (VERY well-defined) EPA test cycle and put itself in a less battery-conserving but more fuel conserving mode? Toyota would be stupid if they didn’t!

        In the real world, I used to easily match or beat the EPA figures for my ’02 Golf TDI, and that was the OLD much less conservative numbers. And I am not a slow driver by any stretch of the imagination. The drivers of current VW TDIs that I know beat the EPA figure by a wide margin. The one co-worker who bought a “40-mpg” Cruze has not stopped whining about how it doesn’t get anywhere near that in the real world.

      • 0 avatar
        srogers

        doc-old;
        The only thing the Cruze excels at is Highway mpg IF you buy the Eco mode AND only if you buy the manual transmission (like any Americans do?)

        The Elantra, Accent, Fiat 500, Fiesta, etc. surpass it in city mpg and match or beat it combined mpg in manual form, and if we look at automatic equipped cars, the Cruze falls back considerably.

      • 0 avatar
        doctor olds

        @krhodes1- Years ago, I had emissions compliance responsibility for GM Powertrain and am familiar with techniques to maximize fuel economy ratings. I can also tell you that it is illegal for makers to use “test beater” methods that cause the car to operate differently on the EPA test than in real world use. It is possible, but unlikely that anyone is doing this in a significant way. Car makers have to sign a statement that they are not for a vehicle to receive certification to sell in the U.S.
        @srogers- You make my point- Some much smaller cars get a bit better rating in the city. No other non-hybrid gas car surpasses Cruze combined estimate and none even matches its hwy rating. The only similar size car that matches Cruze Eco’s hwy rating is the Diesel Jetta with the same 42MPG hwy rating. Cruze Eco automatic is up 2MPG for 2012.
        “fueleconomy.gov” lists owner claims for real world mileage.
        Cruze Econ owners report 42.3MPG. Elantra owners report 32MPG!

      • 0 avatar
        CJinSD

        The Cruze returns the worst mileage in its class. Motor Trend’s 1.4t returned 23.9 in a comparison test under conditions where the new Civic returned 29.4 mpg and the norm was in the 27s. A Car and Driver Cruze in a comparison test returned 18 mpg, while their first road test car returned 25, the best number recorded by anyone who can be counted on to perform long division and not rely on an unregulated trip computer.

        Cars ‘optimized’ for the EPA dyno lab routinely do worse than equivalent cars that aren’t gamed. The model the EPA uses sucks. They know it too, which is why their results are ‘adjusted’ downward to provied a wild-@s$ed guess that won’t cause too many angry customers. At least not until they learn to do division.

      • 0 avatar
        doctor olds

        EPA fuel economy estimates are simply derived from the chassis dynomometer tailpipe emissions test schedule. The test is consistent and offers the most controlled and reasonable comparison between vehicles. Driving behavior can cause substantial variation, particularly with vehicles that can accelerate faster than the emissions test schedule requires.Enthusiast mag’s typically use the acceleration capability of the car and thus burn more fuel. Underpowered cars do not have that problem, as, in some cases they can’t even accelerate as fast as the test specifies. The test schedule also does not include the real world driving speeds of the expressway. My memory is fuzzy, but I think the maximum speed is around 50 MPH.

    • 0 avatar
      FreedMike

      @CJinSD:

      Worth noting: the base version of the car did far better mileage-wise – C/D got 27 mpg. The problem with the turbo model is probably a combination of underpowered engine and gearing. Apparently you really have to flog the thing to get any acceleration out of it.

      Still, not my favorite car in the class by a long shot, though…aside from a really nice interior, and overall refinement (which I have to give GM props on for both), the Cruze is a snooze. They’re definitely going after the Corolla with that model.

      Give me a ’12 Focus five-door with a stick and the sport suspension package…and make mine metallic candy apple red, please.

      • 0 avatar
        Robert.Walter

        “it is illegal for makers to use “test beater” methods that cause the car to operate differently on the EPA test than in real world use. It is possible, but unlikely that anyone is doing this in a significant way. Car makers have to sign a statement that they are not for a vehicle to receive certification to sell in the U.S.”

        In the 1970′s, Ford cheated on its EPA tests, and received one of the largest-ever fines from the Federal Government up to that time … people got fired, and the Allen Park Test Lab was built to get the whole cert-operation off the Dearborn campus and provide it with plausable autonomy.

      • 0 avatar
        doctor olds

        @Robert.Walter- One of GM’s emissions test lab managers worked for a while at the VW plant that was in Pennsylvania. He told of tweaking the instruments on a emissions test, almost under the eyes of an EPA auditor, to falsely improve results!
        Car makers do cheat on occasion. Honda once presented a “safety crash test” car with a double thickness floorpan to the Japanese government! I don’t recall how it came to light, or what the penalty was, but do recall reading the news report.
        As a generality, these things are hard to get away with, as the example of Ford in the ’70′s.

  • avatar
    Zackman

    Ahhh…I click on TTAC and wind up with lunch time with Hitler. Doesn’t get much better than that!

    Hitler smack never gets old. Wait…this is about Opel…I don’t care.

  • avatar
    Philosophil

    It Volkswagen trying to buy the world or something? Holy guacamole!

  • avatar
    Robert.Walter

    This can’t bode well for SAAB.

  • avatar
    wallstreet

    Great ! GM can swap Opel for that desperately needed 1% stock.

  • avatar
    pannkake

    Just for clarification, the “Asian” guy in the dumb cartoon is Tojo, prime minister of Japan during WWII. He’s not Chinese.

    • 0 avatar

      Give that man a gold star! At least someone knows his history …

      • 0 avatar
        Zackman

        My son has a collection of those WWll “demonize the enemy” propaganda posters. Many of them he doesn’t display, either, due to what would be considered “racist”, of which I agree.

      • 0 avatar

        Mr. Schmitt, Hideki Tojo was convicted and executed as a war criminal for, among other things, ordering the deaths of millions of Chinese civilians. Selecting Tojo’s caricature to represent “the Chinese” for this article is merely quite unfortunate if you weren’t aware of this, but is something else entirely if you also are one who “knows his history” as you put it.

      • 0 avatar

        mharrell: I think you’ll find that Mr Schmitt is quite aware of the history of World War II. Indeed, I would submit that the image makes a fine comment on the perennial nature of the “yellow peril” in the Western imagination. And I’m not being facetious… at least one of the German sources linked to in the OP uses that very turn of phrase.

  • avatar
    tom

    GM selling Opel does make sense to the degree that Opel is losing money and in all likelihood will continue to do so. However, GM can’t see Opel as an independent company, because there are lots of Opels sold under various brands (Chevy in South America, Buick in the US and China).
    Also, if GM sells Opel, they could no longer bar them competing outside of Europe, so they could unleash a fierce competitor, especially in China and South America (depending on whom they sell Opel to of course).
    So I still have some doubts.

    On the other hand, the Spiegel article talks about GM saying that Chevrolet could quickly fill the gap left by Opel in Europe and that’s exactly the kind of idiotic thing I expect some bean-counter in Detroit to think. So it could be true.
    Of course Chevrolet (or rather Daewoo with a bow-tie) would be the last brand to fill the gap.

    But then I can’t see VW buying Opel at all. Granted, with the demise of Opel over the last two decades, the fierce rivalry (up to pure hatred) between Opel and VW drivers has somewhat vanished, but these brands are still nemeses.
    But more importantly than the emotional side of this is the business side. VW wouldn’t gain anything by adding yet another European small to mid-sized car company. They already have three of those. Opel doesn’t bring new markets, it doesn’t bring new demographics, it doesn’t bring new technology and most importantly, it doesn’t make money.

    The only German company I could see buying Opel is Daimler. They’re constantly looking for partners in developing small cars and Opel can provide that, plus Opel is also quite advanced when it comes to alternative drivetrains, like fuel cell technology.
    But even that’s unlikely if you ask me. Daimler has for the time being partnered up with Renault-Nissan, plus it burned its fingers several times in the past and I can’t see them trying to turn around a money losing carmaker from an entirely different segment.

    So assuming the rumor is real, the Chinese are probably the most likely candidates, but maybe Magna or Fiat will give it another try as well…

    • 0 avatar

      Tom, you nailed it on the head. I couldn’t agree with you more.

    • 0 avatar

      I don’t see the Spiegel article saying that Chevrolet could quickly fill the gap left by Opel in Europe. They say that GM may no longer need the German engineering, they can get that from Korea.

      Der Spiegel doesn’t even mention Chevrolet.

      • 0 avatar
        tom

        Yes, Der Spiegel doesn’t say it, but I’m sure that I read it somewhere…as I write this, I checked the Autobild site and they say it…that’s not where I originally read it though…

      • 0 avatar
        seanx37

        That is what I was thinking. Just sell Opel to the Chinese. Then sell the same, or similar, product at a Chevy dealer.

        But, how much taxpayer money did GM spend to keep Opel a few years ago? Does GM give any money made in a sale to the US and Canadian taxpayer?

  • avatar

    Here’s my conspiracy theory: This rumor, which says that the next-gen Buick LaCrosse and Enclave will be sold as Opel flagships in 2015 is related to a rumor that’s circulating inside Opel about a possible sale to the Chinese. Someone in Opel leaked that to the German government, which decided to try to goad VW into becoming a white knight.

    I think Schwartz is onto something here… the incomprehensibility of GM’s maneuverings with SAIC is the wild card in this madness. And frankly, I’m not sure GM’s handover of India to SAIC was any less short-sighted than a potential sale of Opel to SAIC. Puzzling stuff either way, and we’ll definitely be keeping an eye out for developments…

  • avatar
    doctor olds

    http://www.thecarconnection.com/news/1061322_opel-ceo-talk-of-opels-sale-is-pure-speculation

  • avatar
    Tstag

    I do wonder if GM is considering the sale of all of Opel or just most of the German bits? After all it’s more successful British sibling Vauxhall is currently preparing to build the Volt…

    Clearly GM has a strong operation in the UK. It’s Vauxhall brand has traditionally had the biggest market share in any of Vauxhall/ Opel’s European markets and it has some efficient and cost effective plants in Britain. In contrast Opel has expensive plants in Germany and strong unions.

    So maybe a divorce between Opel and Vauxhall could be on the cards. Vauxhall could gradually switch to sharing product lines with other GM family members like Buick and could re-enter the Irish market. It could also then go into mainland Europe as the ‘quintessential’ English brand…..

    Sell Opel, keep Vauxhall?

  • avatar
    rdeiriar

    Hmmm. What about BMW? They are also sitting on a pile of cash, they have an estabilished dealer network all over the world, and could certainly use a volume brand.

  • avatar

    Akerson is a step up from Wagoner. Red Ink Rick was merely a puppet for the banksters. Lt Dan is actually a bankster himself. don’t be surprised to see GMNA belly up and the remnants gobbled up in Shanghai as the corporation becomes Chinese just like Wynn. these are not stupid people folks, they only act that way to deceive.

  • avatar
    Robbie

    GM will likely want to sell Opel without intellectual property. So, in that case they are selling some assembly plants, plus the engineering department in Rüsselsheim, plus the rights to keep on producing their current cars for a while.

  • avatar
    IronTed

    Yellow peril? HA! They used to be 150 years ago when China was the “Sick Man of Asia”. Now China is going to be the largest economy in the world in 20 years. It’s going to regain its rightful place. One advice to my German friends in particular and the West in general, “please be open-minded, and view China with respect.” They may not have a perfect system, but at least they have a system that works. President Hu once said what keeps him up at night is he has to create 25 million jobs for the Chinese every year!!! The world would be a much better place if the West can get rid of the loser attitude and partner with China.

    • 0 avatar
      MikeAR

      Are you serious? A bubble economy and sitting on a demographic time bomb because of the one child policy? I haven’t even got to their human rights problems yet. China at some point will flame out as the pressures of balancing growth with continued tyranny become impossible to maintain. China, who can reverse engineer but not engineer to any degree, will become the world power? China does not have a rightful place. It’s like every other country. It’s place in the world has to earned and China is still a tin-pot dictatorship juggling all those pressure points at once. The kleptocrats in charge are desperate to keep power so they can steal more and stay alive. China with no property rights and rule of law?

  • avatar
    mike978

    Completely agree with MikeAR. China has problems in the future years which will cause its “spectacular” growth to fade. India and South Korea are much better prospects for continued growth – both are democracies, have the rule of law and reasonable individual liberty. China on the other hand has none of that and has many more men than women – no society has ever had such an imbalance, wonder why?


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