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Beijing Auto makes GM offer on Opel

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Beijing Auto makes GM offer on Opel

Magna plan still on the table; bid gives carmaker second option

Detroit News staff and wire services

General Motors Corp. has increased its negotiating options for its German subsidiary Adam Opel GmbH by obtaining a second offer from Beijing Automotive Industry Corp.

GM is in talks to transfer control of cash-strapped Opel to a consortium led by Canadian supplier Magna International Inc. after reaching a preliminary deal on May 30.

But those discussions have hit stumbling blocks, with negotiators unable to agree on issues such as safeguards for GM and Opel proprietary technology.

GM continued talking to other potential partners, and GM spokesman Chris Preuss told Bloomberg News on Friday that Beijing Automotive had submitted an offer for Opel.

He did not elaborate except to say that it was a nonbinding proposal, like Magna’s.

Preuss said the talks with Magna remain on track.

Italy’s Fiat SpA and Brussels-based RHJ International SA also have expressed an interest in taking a stake in Opel. GM is also in talks with RHJ, an industrial holding company.

But Magna’s proposal prevailed in May, with both GM and the German government viewing it as the best solution for Opel. Berlin’s view matters because the German government is providing financial aid to Opel and trying to shield the R?sselsheim-based carmaker from GM’s troubles.

Some German politicians feared that Fiat would be more inclined to cut jobs and plants at Opel to consolidate both carmakers’ European operations.

Meanwhile, GM would prefer to conclude a deal with a partner willing to keep Opel within GM’s system of global product development and platform-sharing. That would not be possible if Fiat were to absorb Opel, say sources familiar with the talks.

Fiat also is aligned with Chrysler after buying most of Chrysler LLC’s best assets out of bankruptcy to form Chrysler Group LLC.

State-controlled Beijing Automotive may have an advantage over Magna because it may need less financial support from the German government, Stephen Pope, chief global market strategist for Cantor Fitzgerald in London, said on Bloomberg Television.

But, he said, Beijing Automotive’s interest may raise concerns because the Chinese have not always shown respect for intellectual property in the past.

That is one of the issues complicating the talks with Magna, which is bringing in Russian partners.

Under the terms of its proposal, Magna would get 20 percent of Opel, Russia’s state-controlled Sberbank would get a 35 percent stake, which it was expected to transfer to a Russian automaker, GM would retain 35 percent, and Opel employees would have 10 percent.

Negotiators hope to have a definitive agreement for Opel by the end of July and close the deal before the end of September.

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