By on August 1, 2011

According to Germany’s usually well informed AUTO BILD, Korea’s Hyundai either did or still does cast longing eyes on struggling Opel. Opel is on Hyundai’s horizon, literally: Hyundai’s German tech center in Rüsselsheim is only a few miles away from Opel. “Hyundai is growing faster than any other automaker. They are desperately seeking new engineers at the Hyundai tech center,” writes AUTO BILD, “and the plant in Czech Nošovice cannot be expanded further. Opel with thousands of well trained engineers, precious EV know-how (Ampera) and underutilized plants would be a great fit.” And this is how the latest car-cliffhanger started …

According to AUTO BILD’s information, Hyundai telegraphed its interest in Opel to GM. Volkswagen heard about the flirts (there are very few secrets in Germany’s incestuous auto business, especially when it involves Ausländer – foreigners .) Alarm bells went off in Wolfsburg.

“If Opel would sell to a Chinese manufacturer, we would just sit and watch,” a high-ranking Volkswagen insider leaked to AUTO BILD. “But with Hyundai – something needed to be done.”

VW started to do due diligence on Opel. Volkswagen’s CFO Hans Dieter Pötsch had his people run scenarios. Ferdinand Piëch became involved. Finally, Volkswagen told GM how much they were willing to pay. “Apparently, it wasn’t enough,” says AUTO BILD, “no negotiations followed.“

When the Opel overtures did not turn into a full scale opera, Wolfsburg leaked the story to the press, says AUTO BILD.  But the drama was far from over.

For two months, GM CEO Dan Akerson refused to deny that Opel is for sale.  German auto expert Stefan Bratzel, dean of the Bergisch Gladbach auto academy, thinks he knows why:  GM is under the watchful eye of the SEC. “If Akerson denies a sale, and then sells Opel after all, he is in trouble with the law,” Bratzel said. Finally, last week, there was a lukewarm denial from Akerson: “We don’t comment on speculation — and there has been a lot of speculation — but I will say this: Opel is not for sale.”

Ever the spurned lover, Volkswagen’s Winterkorn started trash talking about Opel. Only the Chinese would be interested in Opel, and even that remains a very theoretical possibility. That elicited an immediate response from GM: “General Motors has a longstanding policy of not commenting on rumors and speculation.  Unfortunately, some of our competitors do not show similar restraint.”

AUTO BILD says that Winterkorn’s comments are wishful thinking: “Opel is getting it together. Sales and market shares are up in nearly all European markets. This makes Opel attractive, also for Hyundai. VW chief Martin Winterkorn “is scared of the Koreans as the biggest obstacle in Volkswagen’s way to #1,” writes AUTO BILD. Winterkorn himself had confirmed that the Koreans “are more brutal than the Japanese and attack everywhere in the world.”

Adds AUTO BILD: „Possibly also in Europe, together with neighbor Opel as a partner.“


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4 Comments on “German Press: Hyundai After Opel...”

  • avatar

    What fascinates me bout this story is the Chinese angle. VW said internally that a Chinese buyout of Opel wouldn’t bother them, but exploited Berlin’s fear of a Chinese takeover to hide what they were really worried about: Hyundai. A nice little PR case study right there…

  • avatar

    So, this sounds like Opel may have never been for sale, but that VW heard rumors that Hyundai was interested, came up with its own offer, and leaked the info the media when they were turned down. Even if he said that Opel wasn’t for sale at the time the rumors came out, I don’t think he would be in trouble with the SEC. Saying that Opel is not for sale when the rumors started, but could be for sale in the next quarter would be fine.

  • avatar

    And why not just pirate the engineers instead of buying an entire (useless) company?

  • avatar

    The Chinese auto companies don’t have the experience right now to run foreign operations like that or manage the vehicle development department staffed by foreign, white-collar professionals. Hyundai probably can.

    Is Opel profitable in nearly all markets as well, or are they still the millstone around GM’s neck?

    I’d think twice about deviating from their (Hyundai’s) policy of opening plants in Eastern Europe where assembly is cheaper. They can’t afford the negative publicity of shutting down plants in job loss-paranoid Western Europe.

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