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Supplier, Fiat grapple over Opel

2009-04-29 07:24
Berlin/Frankfurt - Austrian-Canadian car parts maker Magna has presented the rough outlines of a rival offer to seize control of General Motors' Opel unit ahead of Italy's Fiat, German economy minister Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg said.

Magna's approach marks an effort to elbow aside Italy's Fiat as politicians and investors grapple to find a long-term solution for Germany-based Opel.

Magna is seeking control by working together with a third-party investor, a person familiar with Magna's thinking told Reuters.

A spokesman for the office of Kurt Beck, state premier of Rhineland-Palatinate on Tuesday said Magna wanted to buy a 20% stake in Opel but was seeking control through direct and indirect stakes.

Rhineland-Palatinate is one of four German states where Opel plants are located. Magna declined to comment on details of its proposal outline.

Speaking after a meeting on Tuesday with senior representatives of Magna, Guttenberg told reporters the supplier's concept was "interesting" but he stressed the government needed more facts and figures from GM.

The concepts from Magna and Fiat were very different from each other, said Guttenberg, adding these two were the most substantial plans he had seen so far from potential investors. He declined to give details.

Fiat declined to comment on Guttenberg's statements.

Political worries

GM must sell a significant stake in Opel to convince German politicians to use taxpayers' money for 3.3 billion euros in loan guarantees.

With an election due in September, the government is anxious to find a way of saving jobs at the company. Opel has four production sites in Germany which together employ some 25 000 people.

"The future security of the plants plays a major role in both initial plans," Guttenberg said.

Germany's Der Spiegel magazine reported at the weekend that Fiat chief executive Sergio Marchionne had pledged to maintain all four German production sites should it acquire Opel.

Nonetheless, Fiat's advances have sparked concern among Opel's union leadership who fear job cuts would fall mainly on Opel if the combined company needed to shrink.

"In the next few days, further talks will take place between the investors and GM so they can then present an industrial plan for Opel. On that basis, we will then decide how we, as the German government, will get involved," said Guttenberg.

German foreign minister and vice chancellor Frank-Walter Steinmeier has gained a "positive impression" of Magna after holding talks with the company, his ministry said on Monday.

Chapter 11 is looming over General Motors which on Monday offered its final plan to reorganise outside bankruptcy by slashing bond debt, cutting over 21 000 more US jobs and emerging as a nationalised automaker under majority control by the US government.

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