The Battle Of The Barbs: GM Mad At Volkswagen Over Opel

Bertel Schmitt
by Bertel Schmitt
the battle of the barbs gm mad at volkswagen over opel

No good deed goes unpunished. While the leadership of GM refuses to comment on Opel, Volkswagen’s Winterkorn filled the void and dispensed some helpful advice. He said that only the Chinese would be interested in Opel, and even that remains a very theoretical possibility. GM did not like that advice and fired back.

GM top echelons refused to break cover. Instead, there is a big pronouncement on GM’s website.

“General Motors has a longstanding policy of not commenting on rumors and speculation. Unfortunately, some of our competitors do not show similar restraint.

In Wednesday’s edition of the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, Volkswagen CEO Martin Winterkorn commented on rumors regarding Opel, which continues a regrettable pattern of fanning speculation as Opel makes solid progress in its restructuring, in generating improved operating results and more.

In this case, it was timed to the incredibly positive media reaction to the groundbreaking Opel Ampera extended-range electric vehicle, which has been hailed as “a stroke of genius,” “the start of a new era,” and as a leading industry expert said, places Opel three years ahead of VW.

Because of such enthusiastic reviews and strong customer demand, Opel is ordering an additional 2,000 Amperas for the European market next year.”

My, are we thin-skinned. Do they honestly believe that someone in Wolfsburg is losing sleep over the Ampera? But this is how the PR game works. If the Ampera flops, then it was Winterkorn’s fault.

So what did Winterkorn really say? Buried deep in a story about the new New Beetle (now “Beetle”), the Frankfuter Allgmeine Zeitung (mostly) paraphrased Winterkorn:

“Winterkorn does not believe that Hyundai could warm up to a takeover of Opel. If push comes to shove, Chinese automakers would be more likely to show interest in the GM subsidiary which one or the other GM manager allegedly would like to sell. Especially the Opel Technical Center, along with the distribution channel, could tantalize the Chinese. To spin-off Opel from GM would theoretically be feasible, if one absolutely wants it. “The question is, is it smart to abandon 5,000 highly qualified engineers in a time where everyone is desperately looking for skilled talent?”

I read this as Herr Winterkorn saying that selling Opel is not a good idea.

Then why the miffed counter-battery barrage from Detroit? Maybe there are people at RenCen who don’t share Winterkorn’s conviction, and who think selling Opel and replacing it with Chevrolet is swell.

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6 of 17 comments
  • Charly Charly on Jul 14, 2011

    Saab/Hummer/Pontiac/Saturn/Oldsmobile were mostly brands. Opel is a development center. There is also the question of profitablity? Does Opel really make a loss or is it only a loss because of accounting

    • Forraymond Forraymond on Jul 14, 2011

      +1 With today's lax accounting and lasse faire courts, there is no telling what is the truth and no Laws that require the truth.

  • Edward Niedermeyer Edward Niedermeyer on Jul 14, 2011
    Maybe there are people at RenCen who don’t share Winterkorn’s conviction, and who think selling Opel and replacing it with Chevrolet is swell. Or, maybe it's just hard to translate the nuance out of German. Or, maybe it's a little from column A and a little from column B. Either way, it's definitely not about the Ampera, which is sold out (funny GM didn't mention the strong rental car company demand) and therefore not really at the mercy of Herr Winterkorn's pronouncements.

    • See 2 previous
    • Hildy Johnson Hildy Johnson on Jul 14, 2011

      @geozinger Ed, you're right it's not a sales-boosting tactic. My guess is they don't need any sales boosters - they should have no problem selling the Amperas, without or without fleets or boosters. If the economy is there for the fleets, it will be there for a sufficient number of private customers. Giving this many cars to fleets may be a way to maximize exposure of the car - more people get to drive it, if for a day, and may convince themselves that--as Opel tries so hard to communicate in their current statement--that Opel has innovative, ground-breaking product.

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