Sources: GM to pick Magna for Opel

September 10, 2009 6:53:45 AM PDT
Two German officials told The Associated Press on Thursday that General Motors Co. will recommend selling its Opel unit to Canada's Magna International Inc.

The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because the decision had not yet been made public. They said the deal with Magna and Russian bank Sberbank would be subject to certain economic conditions they did not further specify.

The Opel Trust overseeing Opel scheduled a press conference later in Berlin while GM Europe said it would brief reporters and analysts in a conference call later in the day.

Adam Opel GmbH employs more than 49,000 people in Europe.

Magna would not confirm that it was buying Opel and neither would the Opel Trust. GM officials could not immediatley be reached.

In an earlier statement, General Motors Europe said "we neither confirm or deny an alleged press conference this afternoon. If there is something to communicate we'll do so in due time.

Chancellor Angela Merkel's government has favored the Canadian-Russian consortium's bid since it offered euro1.5 billion ($2.2 billion) in bridge financing in May to keep Opel afloat. Magna has promised to keep all of Opel's German plants open, a key part of the agreement as Merkel faces Sept. 27 elections.

Opel employs some 25,000 workers in the country and counts four major plants, along with Opel's headquarters.

Under the terms of the original Magna bid, Magna and Sberbank would get a 55 percent stake in Opel. GM would hold onto a 35 percent stake and Opel workers would get 10 percent.

Details of the decision were of high interest in Britain, where Opel sister brand Vauxhall is based and counts some 5,500 workers; and Belgium, Spain and Poland, where Opel has operations.

Under a structure created earlier this year to keep Ruesselsheim, Germany-based Opel out of GM's filing for bankruptcy protection, 65 percent of Opel has been formally under the care of a trustee since the beginning of June, with GM holding the remaining 35 percent. GM has since completed a restructuring and exited bankruptcy court protection.

Opel, which began building automobiles in 1899, was acquired by GM in 1929. The company has three assembly plants in Germany: Bochum, where it builds the Astra and Zafira models; Eisenach, where it makes the Corsa; and its main Ruesselsheim plant, where it builds the Vectra and Signum. It also produces engines at an assembly plant in Kaiserslautern.

Opel also builds cars in Belgium, Poland, Portugal and Britain.

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AP Auto Writer Tom Krisher contributed to this report from Detroit.

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