Breaking: GM To Sell Opel – To The Chinese Or To VW?

Bertel Schmitt
by Bertel Schmitt

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.”

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=""> Tomoko </a>. Bertel Schmitt is a founding board member of the <a href=""> Offshore Super Series </a>, an American offshore powerboat racing organization. He is co-owner of the racing team Typhoon.

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  • IronTed IronTed on Jun 10, 2011

    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.

    • MikeAR MikeAR on Jun 10, 2011

      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?

  • Mike978 Mike978 on Jun 10, 2011

    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?

  • SPPPP Too much individual choice in that program, maybe?
  • Eric I would like one of each, please. But make that a '641/2 Mustang and a 1970 240Z
  • Kwik_Shift_Pro4X Funny comparison:
  • Kwik_Shift_Pro4X Some insight.
  • Amwhalbi I know this is apples and oranges, but I'd rather have an Elantra N, a Jetta GLI or a Civic Si than either the Mustang or the Z.