Will This Nice Lady Kill Opel?

Bertel Schmitt
by Bertel Schmitt

After a lot of arm twisting, and several deadlines set by the US court and the German government, the Opel deal finally is entering the final round—for now. After a suitor has been found, a French woman may spoil the whole wedding.

Reuters has it that China’s BAIC has finally done what was expected they would do: Submit a non-binding offer for Germany’s Opel. About time it is.

Federal bankruptcy Judge Robert Gerber had given GM lawyers a Friday deadline to submit papers. His Honor will rule by July 10 on a plan to create a “new GM,” and the Opel issue needs to be settled. The Germans had set a July 15 deadline for final offers.

Magna and its Russian partners appears to be way ahead of BAIC. Magna’s board of directors wants to approve a business plan for Opel on July 7, an act that is widely seen as a rubberstamping exercise.

Belgian holding company RHJ International is officially still in the game. After posting a sharp loss on Wednesday, it has become very doubtful whether RHJ has the necessary wherewithal to play with the big boys.

Business plans submitted will be evaluated by PriceWaterhouse Coopers on behalf of Berlin. The government will have to cough up more money after already extending Opel a six-month 1.5 billion bridge loan. Price Waterhouse needs to determine whether the proposals are sound.

Whoever wins the race for Opel isn’t in the clear yet. It’s just beginning to get interesting.

When asked whether Brussels anti trust watchers will examine any deal for Opel very closely, German Deputy Economics Minister Jochen Homann told reporters: “Yes, clearly.” It sounded like he liked it. Homann expressed skepticism over Magna’s concept for Opel. “We will see whether Magna’s concept is successful. It is based on theories over which one can heartily discuss . . . There are justifiable question marks.” Homann pointed to the chronic structural overcapacities that the EU is concerned about and cautioned that the European Commission has stated a bailout could not distort competition.

Heinrich Weiss, President of the German-Russian Chamber of Commerce Had harsher words, says Der Spiegel. Weiss called the Magna/Sberbank concept “amateurish. It is irresponsible vis-a-vis the taxpayer to keep this ramshackle business alive.” According to Weiss, Magna, Sberbank and GAZ are “weak partners.” Like Homann, Weiss is concerned about overcapacity. “The weakest players have to go.”

There is another issue that gives the amateur league that competes for Opel the heebie-jeebies: French Economy and Finance Minister Christine Lagarde is widely rumored to become the European Union’s Competition Commissioner in November. France doesn’t have any Opel plants. France is home to key competitors PSA Peugeot Citroën and Renault, which counts the French state as a large shareholder. They would be delighted if Opel bit the dust.

So this is how it might go down: A partner is found for Opel, and the matter can be laid to rest until the September elections in Germany. After the elections, Brussels shoots the deal down. There will be perfunctory protests from Germany. Then, Europe’s auto makers can breathe a little easier.

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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  • Cammy Corrigan Cammy Corrigan on Jul 04, 2009

    Folkdancer, They fear women because secretly they know that we know more about cars than they do! ;O)

  • TireGuy TireGuy on Jul 04, 2009

    Bertel & Katie: Neelie Kroes was sharp enough the last years anyway. Normally it cannot get much worse. Bertel: I do not see this timeline. The EU e.g. approved a rescue loan for the German retail chain Quelle within a day. If one party is chosen for buying Opel, this will have already been aligned with the EU way before, or will get approval within a short time frame. I do not see this pending until November, no chance.

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  • Scott So they are losing hundreds of millions of dollars and they are promising us a “Cheaper EV”? I wonder how that will look and feel? They killed the Fiesta because they claimed that they couldn’t make a profit on them and when I bought the first one in late 2010 they couldn’t deliver the accessories I wanted for it! Then I bought a 2016 Fiesta ST and again couldn’t get the accessories for it I wanted. They claimed that the components were going to be available, eventually. So they lost on that one as well! I don’t care about what they say anymore. I’ve moved on to another brand.
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  • Michael S6 What is the metric conversion between one million barrels and the number of votes he expects to buy.
  • NJRide This could give Infiniti dealers an extra product maybe make it a sub brand