By on July 14, 2011

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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17 Comments on “The Battle Of The Barbs: GM Mad At Volkswagen Over Opel...”

  • avatar

    I guess I’d be more inclined to back the General on this IF the Ampera wasn’t just a volt with a new fascia.

    I don’t think Opel had anything to do with the engineering.

    • 0 avatar

      The early stages of research into technologies for the Volt were done by Frank Weber during his stint at Opel.

    • 0 avatar

      Actually, it was an Opel team that developed the Chevy Volt. But they were transferred to the US early on in the development when GM saw the PR potential of the car…or rather the GR (=government relations) potential.

  • avatar
    Cammy Corrigan

    If I were Herr Winterkorn, I’d be careful. If GM have a word to a certain someone, then tomorrow’s headlines may read:

    “Unintended acceleration problems hit all of Volkswagen cars.”


  • avatar

    Then why the miffed counter-battery barrage from Detroit?

    In the corporate world, it’s considered bad form to discuss the possibility that one of your rivals is on some sort of chopping block. (Whether or not it is on said block or if there are Koreans or Chinese who wish to do any chopping is beside the point.)

    That, and it was a good chance for GM to talk about itself. I just hope that they know that they sound ridiculous when they pound their chests over a mere 2,000 units of anything. In a market in which over 13 million new cars were sold last year, that amounts to next to nothing.

  • avatar

    Perhaps Mr. Akerson should take his own advice when it comes to commenting on the health of competitors, vis a vis his comments on Lincoln.

  • avatar
    Hildy Johnson

    They could just have said, of course, “Herr Winterkorn is profoundly mistaken – Opel will definitely not be sold.” It seems, however, that they prefer to fan speculation.

  • avatar

    GM would really be dumb to sell Opel right now. Yes, they’re losing money currently, but much of the tech in other cars came from that division and in the 90s it was the profit center that kept the rest of GM afloat. Don’t cut off your nose to spite your face.

    Of course GM has been known for incredible short sightedness when it comes to aquisitions (Saab anyone?), so it wouldn’t surprise me in the least. The Chinese would LOVE to get their hands on a German carmaker with that boatload of advanced technology in their pockets.

  • avatar

    Opel is the next Saab/Hummer/Pontiac/Saturn/Oldsmobile – a money-losing orphan that nobody wants to salvage.

    I don’t understand the conventional wisdom that says profitable companies are somehow interested in unprofitable ones just because they have the money to buy them. This was the ‘hope’ recited frequently when GM’s other dogs were due for shutdown.

  • avatar

    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

  • avatar

    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.

    • 0 avatar

      There were no sales to rental company numbers in the Auto Bild article itself. But I see in the comments section numbers mentioned, but no sources quoted.

      Regardless, rentals allow people to experience the car without sales pressure. If I were seriously considering a vehicle, I’d want to rent one before I purchased it. A fifteen minute test drive is worthless for a car I may keep 10 years. Renting it for several days or a week would give a better idea of how well it does it’s job.

      • 0 avatar

        The Autobild story doesn’t mention specific numbers, but dig this: Opel says the Europcar deal involves a “significant” number of vehicles and that it’s targeting a 70% fleet mix for Ampera. Seventy percent. That’s not a private sales-boosting tactic, that’s moving the metal to fleets.

      • 0 avatar
        Hildy Johnson

        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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