GM wants Russians barred from Opel takeover

BERLIN: US auto giant General Motors wants Russian firms barred from taking over its German subsidiary Opel, but Berlin does not agree, according to the weekly Der Spiegel.

In its forthcoming issue the weekly, which cites no sources, says that the US government, which now owns 60 percent of GM, wants no Russian participation in the future control of Opel.

Berlin favours Canadian auto parts maker Magna, along with Russian state-owned autobuilder GAZ and lender Sberbank, to take over Opel, which includes Vauxhall in Britain and employs 50,000 people, half of them in Germany.

GM's board is thought to prefer rival suitor RHJ International but has so far failed to name a buyer.

Government spokesman Ulrich Wilhelm denied the report later Saturday, saying that neither General Motors nor the US government had said that a Russian presence was a reason for turning down Magna's bid.

Another government source added that any fears about technology transfer to Russia resulting from the deal could be dealt with in the eventual contract.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel said Wednesday that she hoped for progress on the future of Opel "at the latest" before a board meeting of GM on September 8-9.

"We believe that it is good and correct that when it comes to the future of GM Europe, of Opel and GM, a decision is made as soon as possible. But substance must come before speed and if there are still issues to be resolved, then we will resolve them," Merkel said in an interview on Sat1/N24 television.

A report in the Bild daily said earlier that Berlin had dropped its opposition to GM selling Opel to RHJ, but the Brussels-based investment group would have to team up with a strategic partner in the auto industry.

Both Magna and RHJ want to slash around 10,000 jobs at Opel but Merkel and the state governments where Opel has factories prefer Magna because fewer of the cuts would fall in Germany than under RHJ's proposals.

Other unconfirmed reports have said that GM might decide to hang on to Opel after all.

Der Spiegel said Merkel had promised Russian President Dmitry Medvedev when they met in Munich in July that she would back the Magna bid to the hilt, but it added that the German government had "underestimated the Russian factor," which was "not a detail" for the Americans.

"GM is one of the largest players in the Russian automobile market and wants to stay that way," it said, referring to the proposal that under the new management Opels would be produced at the GAZ plant in Russia.

"In addition, even 20 years after the end of the Cold War, 'selling off to the Russians' is still perceived by many as a humiliation."