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Driving a hard bargain on GM’s Opel

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OPEL-RHJ/John Smith, General Motors’ chief negotiator on the sale of Opel, deserves a medal. But he certainly won’t be getting one from German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

Magna says it has reached an agreement in principle to buy a controlling stake in GM’s European unit. However, GM says it is going to think about the revised offer from the Canadian auto parts maker. It wants more details of the government financing package on offer before it can make up its mind.

Even though this contest has been one-sided from the start, GM and Smith have stuck resolutely to their guns in talks with not only the potential bidders but also the German government — resisting its attempts to bully them into accepting the Magna bid to the last.

Berlin has unashamedly skewed the race towards Magna at every step of the way — supporting its Russian-backed consortium in the belief that fewer jobs will be lost than under the rival takeover proposal of Belgian private equity group RHJ International favoured by Smith and GM.

Schaeffler/Conti feud puts Schroeder back on stage

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schroeder1Gerhard Schroeder is back at centre-stage, seven weeks before Germany’s general election. A corporate feud between industrial holding group Schaeffler and car parts maker Continental AG has given the former chancellor the chance for a comeback as the workers’ champion, although he no longer holds public office.

When Schaeffler, the biggest family-owned industrial company in Germany, bought control of Conti last August, the two sides appointed Schroeder as guarantor of the interests of Continental and its workforce, shareholders and other stakeholders under an investors’ agreement.

GM negotiator slams Opel bidder’s Russian connection

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The GM blogger is at it again. John Smith, General Motors’ group vice-president and chief negotiator for the sale of its stake in Opel/Vauxhall, lays into the bid by Canadian-Austrian car parts maker Magna – especially the Russian Connection – in his latest update on the state of the talks.

He also pours cold water on happy talk from German politicians of an early decision in favour of Magna, backed by the German authorities, rather than rival Belgium-based financial investor RHJ International, which clearly still has GM’s preference.

GM blog lifts hood on power struggle over Opel

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cfcd208495d565ef66e7dff9f98764da.jpgIt’s not often you get to lift the hood and watch a power struggle going on in the engine room of General Motors. But the vice-president of GM Europe, John Smith, has just provided tantilising details of the arguments over the rival bids for Opel/Vauxhall, the main European arm of the fallen U.S. auto giant. Smith is the chief negotiator on the sale of Opel.

In a blog apparently intended to reassure Opel staff, but accessible to the public, he insisted GM had not specified a preferred bidder. But he made clear his own preference for the bid from Belgian financial investor RHJ International, which is loosely related to U.S. private equity fund Ripplewood, over the offer by Canadian-Austrian car parts maker Magna and its Kremlin-backed Russian partner Sberbank.

Magna sweetens Opel bid, but not on GM concerns

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Canadian-Austrian car parts maker Magna has sweetened its offer for General Motors’ main European arm, Opel, by pledging more of its own capital up-front as it tries to burn off Belgium-based financial investor RHJ International, which has GM’s favour so far. But the improved bid doesn’t appear to address the U.S. auto maker’s main concerns about future control. 

According to a German government source, Magna is now offering to inject 350 million euros immediately, with another 150 million to be raised through a convertible bond. Magna had originally offered just 100 million of its own capital up-front with 400 million to be raised in bonds. That compares with RHJ’s offer of an initial 175 million euros, plus another 100 million at the end of 2012.

Politics, economics collide over Opel

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Political and economic logic are set to collide in the byzantine decision-making over the future of German carmaker Opel, the main European arm of fallen U.S. auto giant General Motors.
If politics prevail, as seems likely, the cost to German taxpayers will be higher and the chances of commercial success lower.

The aim of the Berlin government and four federal states, which are sustaining Opel with bridging finance, is to save as many German jobs and production sites as possible. That makes political sense ahead of September’s general election. But the business logic is that only a greatly slimmed-down Opel can survive in an industry with chronic overcapacity.
In theory, it is up to GM’s board to choose among the three offers it expected to receive on Monday from Canadian-Austrian car parts maker Magna <MGa.TO>, Belgian financial investor RHJ <RJHI.BR>, and, less plausibly, Chinese state-owned auto maker BAIC. But there are several other powerful players with a say. They include the trustees responsible for the company since GM entered U.S. bankruptcy in June, the German federal and state governments, Opel’s works council and, last but not least, the European Commission, which must approve the restructuring plan as a condition for authorising the state aid.

Opel keeps hope alive

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With General Motors in a Washington-guided bankruptcy and car makers around the world benefiting from government subsidies, politics has become firmly intertwined with the fate of the global auto industry. Even so, the deal reached in late May between General Motors and a group led by Magna International for GM’s European arm, Opel, smacked of trying too hard to come up with a politically convenient solution.

So the news that GM is now talking to other potential bidders is a welcome sign. Among the bidders are RHJ International, a publicly traded Belgian spinoff of the American private-equity firm Ripplewood Holdings, and Beijing Auto.

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