Editorial: Opel, Aftermath and Prelude

Bertel Schmitt
by Bertel Schmitt

On Tuesday, twenty years after the fall of the wall that separated the two Germanies, German Chancellor Angela Merkel went to Washington. For the first time since Germany’s Chancellor Adenauer in 1957, the topmost German addressed Congress—to roaring applause.

There was another wall. A wall of silence. Nobody in the US government—owner of General Motors—supposedly had heard a whisper that their most expensive ward of the state had changed their mind, decided to keep Opel, and go home alone. Before the speech, Angela chatted with Barack about high finance and the crock of shit also known as global warming. Not a peep about Opel.

After the speech—at Dulles her Luftwaffe Airbus is already getting ready for departure—Merkel dines at the Ritz Carlton in DC with the world’s most prominent bankers. Flanked by Dominique Strauss-Kahn, chief of the IMF, and Robert Zoellick, head of the World Bank, Merkel celebrates her success. While the dinner guests have their dessert, the cell phone of Merkel’s economic advisor, Jens Weidmann, vibrates. Fritz is on the line. Henderson tells Weidmann that GM will keep Opel after all. Angela flies home fuming. Only when the Airbus is in the air does GM go public with the news, Financial Times Germany writes.

At home in Germany, disgust and indignation reigns. Even GME’s boss Carl-Peter Forster is mad as hell. He says, the decision is “kaum nachvollziehbar” (hard to follow), a euphemism in Germany that is usually understood as “incredibly dickheaded.” Asked by Autobild what will happen next, Forster says, “I don’t know. I believe, the important gentlemen that made that decision don’t know it either.” No wonder Forster is looking for another job. He sounds like he has already signed.

The heads of Germany’s other automakers appear happy. Another sign of bad news: what they like can only be real bad for Opel. BILD called VW CEO Martin Winterkorn who pretended to be sympathetic: “I hope this will end well. I like a strong competitor more than a weak one.” Winterkorn’s nose didn’t grow as he said that. His colleague at Audi, Rupert Stalder, doesn’t find “the decision too surprising. GM reconsidered what they have in Opel.” Dieter Zetsche of Daimler “never could understand why GM wanted to leave Europe as a big blank spot on their map of the world.”

Even Magna’s Deputy head, Siegfried Wolf, appears appreciative: “A decision was made and must be noted. Life goes on.”

How will it go on? The bridge loan, given by the German government comes due by end of November. Jens Weidman, the man with the vibrating cell phone said to Der Spiegel that Germany wants its money back and that Germany is not much inclined to help a GM-owned Opel with more funds. “One can assume that the board of GM hardly cancels the sale of Opel without having thought about how to finance Opel for he coming months,” said the advisor while vitriol was dripping out of both sides of his mouth.

Der Spiegel thinks that you, oops, that we as US tax payers will have to carry a heavy load. The €3B which GM has budgeted appear as “hardly realistic.” Opel’s losses of 2009 and 2010 alone will be higher than €3B. Necessary investments into new technology will eat up another €10B, reckons an expert consulted by the magazine. Also, Opel is only present in Europe. No Opel in China or Brazil. The European and Russian markets are shrinking. In post-Abwrackprämien Germany, sales are expected to drop by a million units, or around 25 percent in 2010. Forecaster CSM Worldwide predicts Russian auto sales will fall by half this year, to 1.43 million cars.

GM may think that after the Brussel’s letter writing burlesque, the German government may be forced to hand them the €4.5B Berlin had offered Magna. “Think again” is the message from Brussels. EU competition commissioner Neelie Kroes said that “we cannot force member states to offer government help. We can and will scrutinize any government help whether it complies with EU regulations.” A warning shot over the bow of other EU states that may want to offer GM money to keep plants open. EU industry commissar Günter Verheugen also warned the EU member states not to start a bidding war, says Reuters.

However, there is another little item: Next year are elections in North Rhine Westphalia. Berlin’s center-right collation needs that state to maintain their thin lead in the Bundesrat, the upper house of Germany. The Bundesrat can block government decisions, just like Congress can. North Rhine Westphalia is home to a large Opel plant in Bochum. Political expedience may again trump economic reason in Deutschland.

Possibly, something along theses lines may be on the agenda—or not—of Guido Westerwelle, Germany’s new Foreign Minister. Not only homophobic government representatives in Washington expect his visit today with apprehension. It is unknown whether the openly gay minister will bring his significant other Michael Mronz along on the trip to DC. Next week, his counterpartesse Hillary Clinton will come to Berlin.

Tense talks ahead.

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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  • KixStart KixStart on Nov 06, 2009

    "The Best & Brightest know that the crock of shit is a Lutzism." Sure, we know that. What we don't know is whether or not it's a "Bertelism." In the context you used, it could be either one. Certainly, President Obama and Chancellor Merkel take it seriously. Neither one of them would have called it a "crock..." I've been reading Scientific American since I was as little kid. Speculation about and then research into increased levels of CO2 in the atmosphere goes back decades, yet the blogosphere is full of "Al Gore the scientist and creator of Global Warming" and "Al Gore the high priest of the Church of Global Warming." That's totally unwarranted and totally bullshit. And the weight of scientific opinion is, in fact, on the side of ACC. The effect is measurable, real and while there's a lot of statistics and fuzzy numbers, the basic ideas are plain and simple and derive from three irrefutable observations: 1. CO2 will trap heat. You can determine this in a lab. If your planet's atmosphere has more CO2 added to it then, absent other factors, your planet's temperature will rise. 2. CO2 levels are rising. This is measureed through ice cores with good measurements that go back hundreds of thousands of years and via systematic direct atmospheric measurement since the late 50s. 3. Humans are putting the extra CO2 into the atmosphere. This is known two ways, first via estimates of human activity (burning fossil fuels, deforeatation, etc) and second by direct radioisotopic measurement. These two sources agree with each other. Calling something that is this well-grounded in good science and has been such a long time in development by a wide range of scientists a "crock of shit" is irresponsible.

  • Bertel Schmitt Bertel Schmitt on Nov 06, 2009

    Oh my (excuse me) GOD. I'm taking my red dress, my high heels, my bootlegged "Rudolph, the red nosed reindeer" CD, and I'm outta here. Before I do this, I am closing this discussion.

  • 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.
  • Crown Seems like they cut some cylinders too.A three cylinder...where are they planning on selling that??