Why GM won't sell Opel

Harald Hamprecht is Editor-in-Chief at Automotive News Europe

General Motors Co. might be considering selling its Opel/Vauxhall division, according to German press reports.

Citing insiders at GM's Detroit headquarters, the car enthusiasts magazine Auto Bild suggests GM could replace Opel in Europe with its Chevrolet brand. Potential buyers could be rival Volkswagen or a Chinese company, says the prestigious news magazine Spiegel.

Both magazines have a high reputation. Nevertheless, I cannot believe this. Here are five reasons that clearly speak against such a move:

  • Opel's restructuring is almost finished. The company is closer to sustainable profits than at any time in the last two decades. Why would GM sell the division now? Sure, GM CEO Dan Akerson is impatient and wants to speed up the restructuring plan. But's that's why he installed a new Opel CEO, Karl-Friedrich Stracke, in April.
  • Opel's technical center in Ruesselsheim has a crucial role in GM's global r&d network.
  • Any Opel buyer would have to pay high royalties because GM would keep the intellectual property for the global platforms that Opel models are based upon.
  • Opel/Vauxhall sold 1.05 million new cars in Europe last year; Chevrolet's European sales were not even a fifth of that at 197,000 units. By selling Opel. GM would effectively give up its presence in Europe, as it would take a very long time to boost Chevrolet's sales to Opel's level.
  • Volkswagen would never get approval from antitrust regulators to buy Opel. In Germany alone VW group has a combined market share of more than 36 percent, compared with 8 percent for Opel.

Of course, I totally agree that it would be stroke of good fortune for any Chinese company to buy Opel. Acquiring Opel's dealer network alone would save millions of euros for a Chinese automaker that wanted to sell its cars in Europe.

Stracke and Opel's labor chief Klaus Franz have already denied the reports, calling them "speculation" - a word Spiegel also uses.

The sad thing for Opel is that the rumors further harm the already damaged image of the brand with the thunderbolt logo – and create unrest among the employees. But actually, competition is tough – and some competitors might already know they have achieved what they aimed for.

It's time for a clear denial that Opel is for sale from Akerson himself. But maybe he still wants to wait. After all, fear of losing your job could easily make OpelVauxhall employees work even harder, instead of thinking they are out of the woods.

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