Opel Watch: Buyback Is a Bitch

Bertel Schmitt
by Bertel Schmitt

A month ago, we reported that GM offered to buy back Opel some day “when we do better after a restructuring phase.” Offered? GM downright demands the right to buy back Opel after a buyer has successfully resuscitated and restructured Opel.

The rumors of such a demand have been around for a while. GM is pretty much the only one on the planet who thinks this is a swell idea.

A week ago, Belgium’s Standard headlined “GM dringt aan op terugkoopmogelijkheid voor Opel” — any child knows that this means “GM demands buy back option for Opel.” A few days later, Roland Koch, premier of Opel’s home state Hesse sent a “ clear response of opposition” to that plan. GM should listen to Herr Koch, because without his support, no deal.

Either GM didn’t get the memo, or they are hard of hearing. One can understand that they are having problems understanding Dutch or Deutsch (or Flemish). So today, Canada’s Globe & Mail puts it in plain English: “GM push for buyback could halt Magna’s Opel bid.” It’s not too hard to understand that the buyback demand is a deal breaker. The Globe & Mail spells it out:

Magna, which is leading a joint bid with Sberbank of Russia to take a controlling stake in Opel, does not want to perform the difficult and lengthy task of repairing the auto maker and restoring it to profitability, only to be forced to sell the division back to General Motors in a few years, people close to the negotiations said yesterday.

As evidenced by Herrn Koch’s reaction, the German government would also take a dim view of any clause allowing GM to buy back Opel. Germany goes by old Admiralty law and claims salvage rights, German style: We save the wreck, we keep it.

According to the usual source close to the matter, the buyback clause was added after the original memorandum of understanding was signed between Magna, GM and the German government in May. “If General Motors changes the game, then Magna will walk away,” the source said.

The buyback imbroglio may explain why GM resurrected other bidders, such as RHJ and China’s BAIC. BAIC probably will say “bu hao” (no good) to the request, and would (once alone) call the GM negotiators “250s” (the Chinese way of saying that someone is three cans short of a sixpack.) RHJ could possibly go for it—if the price is right. But they need the help of the German government, and their answer is: “Nein. Keine Rückkaufklausel.”

The Frankfurter Allgemeine doesn’t think that the buyback clause is a deal breaker. Why? It may not have occurred to GM that they don’t own Opel anymore. 65 percent of Opel are in trusteeship, precondition for the €1.5 billion bridge loan the German government gave. If GM continues to play games, the trustees just may make a decision.

Update: Reuters reports that suitor RHJ posted a sharply wider full-year loss and a 43 percent fall in the value of its portfolio, and most likely will not have the money to buy Opel.

“RHJ can’t acquire a majority stake or a large minority in Opel, because they simply don’t have the cash — RHJ doesn’t even come close,” KBC Securities analyst Tom Simonts told Reuters.

Bertel Schmitt
Bertel Schmitt

Bertel Schmitt comes back to journalism after taking a 35 year break in advertising and marketing. He ran and owned advertising agencies in Duesseldorf, Germany, and New York City. Volkswagen A.G. was Bertel's most important corporate account. Schmitt's advertising and marketing career touched many corners of the industry with a special focus on automotive products and services. Since 2004, he lives in Japan and China with his wife <a href="http://www.tomokoandbertel.com"> Tomoko </a>. Bertel Schmitt is a founding board member of the <a href="http://www.offshoresuperseries.com"> Offshore Super Series </a>, an American offshore powerboat racing organization. He is co-owner of the racing team Typhoon.

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  • Paris-dakar Paris-dakar on Jul 01, 2009

    This reads like something from The Onion. They may not have money, brains, leadership, direction, a plan or even a future, but they have a huge reserve of arrogance. No kidding.

  • Johnny ro Johnny ro on Jul 01, 2009

    GM would be doing Magna a favor to drive them off.

  • Rando [h2]Coincidentally, the Rolls-Royce Cullinan is more than $41k as well -.-[/h2]
  • Ajla "Gee, wonder why car (as well as home) insurance rates are much higher in places like Florida..." Severe weather is on the list but even if a benevolent genie reverted the climate to circa 1724 I think FL would still have high cost. Our home insurance rates have increased 102% since 2021 and I don't think weather models account for that much of a change in that period. Florida's insurance assignment of benefit regulation meant that it had ~80% of the country's of the insurance lawsuits on ~12% of the nation's claims and litigated claims can be expensive to insurance companies. The state altered some regulations and is having some success on getting more companies back, even with the severe weather risks, through relatively bipartisan efforts. With car insurance just beyond the basic "Florida" stuff, the population increase of the past few years is overwhelming the roads. But, I think the biggest thing is we have very low mandated car insurance levels. Only $10K personal injury and $10K property damage. No injury liability needed. And 20% of the state has no insurance. So people that actually want insurance pay out the nose. Like I commented above my under/uninsured coverage alone is 2.5x my comprehensive & collision.
  • Juan Let's do an 1000 mile drive and see who gets there first.
  • Eliyahu CVT needed for MPG. Outback is indeed the legacy of, err, the Legacy.
  • Gayneu I can comment on these. My wife always thought the Minis were "cute" so I bought her a used 2005 (non-S, 5 speed) for one of her "special" birthdays. She loved it and I kinda did too. Somehow a hole developed in the transmission case and the fluid drained out, ruining the car (too expensive to fix). A local mechanic bought it for $800.We then bought a used 2015 S (6 speed) which we still have today (80k miles). Her sister just bought a used S as well (also manual). It has been a dependable car but BMW-priced maintenance and premium gas hurts for sure. I think the earlier generation (like in the article) were better looking with cleaner lines. The 2015 S rides too stiff for me (Chicago roads) but is a hoot on smooth ones. It does seem to shift weird - its hard to describe but it shifts differently from every other manual I have driven. No matter how hard I try, so won't let go of her Mini.