This post was written by colleague Christiaan Hetzner.
Listening to GM Europe CEO Carl-Peter Forster (right), there is a big side benefit of having the thankless job of running a business in danger of being dragged under by its foundering parent.
For one, you are not publicly humiliated by lawmakers with an ax to grind the next time you try and hit them up for aid.
Whereas U.S. congressmen eager to score points with taxpayers were just itching to take turns tag-teaming his boss Rick Wagoner, Forster said he is treated with far more respect and understanding by the German and Swedish governments when he participates in discussions over receiving billions in state loan guarantees. GM is looking to sell its Saab brand in Sweden.
Asked at the Detroit auto show whether the talks were considered in Europe to be as controversial as those in Washington, Forster replied: “Interestingly enough, the Europeans take a very, very different approach. Much less hostile, virtually not hostile at all, seeing the automotive industry as a very important industry.”
GM Europe has a funding requirement peaking this year, in part due to this year’s roll-out of the new Opel Astra and Saab 9-5 cars, key models for both brands.
“They (state officials) understand the extraordinary circumstances in Europe — by the way, the circumstances in the U.S. are even more extraordinary than in Europe. They know how important the industry is for the European economy and particularly for certain member states like Germany, France, Italy, the UK and so on. Absolutely no hostility, very open, understand the situation and try to come up with a solution.”
Perhaps lawmakers in the more socialist governments across the Atlantic better realize what would happen if Opel or Saab cannot get the loan guarantees needed to access to the European Investment Bank’s 16 billion-euro fund for the European auto industry, which is only open to companies with an investment grade rating.