GM is likely to pick a buyer for Opel/Vauxhall next week according to several media reports. In other developments, the German Chancellor expressed support for Magna‘s bid, while RHJ said it would keep German plants open and its CEO dampened GM ‘buy-back clause’ speculation.

GM is  is likely to pick a buyer for Opel  ‘early next week,’ Bloomberg reported today, citing remarks by its executive vice president for international operations, Nick Reilly.

Reilly also told Bloomberg in an interview from Shanghai that Magna and RHJ International are ‘probably the frontrunners’ for the European unit.

In Germany, Sueddeutsche Zeitung reported that GM wants to close the negotiations rounds and stop the bidding race for Opel on Monday. At the moment, there are clear signals that the process is to be finalised on Monday, sources told the newspaper.

Expected by then is the submission of ready-to-sign contracts from Opel and Magna.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel expressed support for Magna’s bid for carmaker Opel on Thursday and said her government aimed to clear up outstanding questions in the next few days.

She told reporters after meeting Russian President Dmitry Medvedev that the two were working together on Opel’s future and that Canadian-Austrian supplier Magna’s bid, backed by Russian lender Sberbank, had benefits.

“There are still a number of questions to be cleared up. But the Magna concept offers excellent starting points,” said Merkel at a joint news conference with Medvedev.

“It offers Opel a chance and also creates the possibility of establishing a strategic partnership in the car sector with Russia,” she said.

Meanwhile, RHJ Chief Executive Leonhard Fischer told German daily Bild-Zeitung that RHJ sees its possible purchase of Opel as a long-term investment.

“As a publicly listed industrial holding, we think in the long-term. That applies to Opel as well,” Fischer told the paper in an interview, rejecting speculation RHJ could divest Opel again after a short time, possibly selling it back to GM under a buy-back clause GM is reportedly keen to introduce.

Fischer also said RHJ plans to keep all four German Opel plants open, while cutting 10,000 jobs in Europe. He did not say how many jobs will go in Germany.

“A detailed contract will be ready by the end of the week,” he added.

The business daily Handelsblatt reported that RHJ planned to close an Opel plant in Belgium in early 2010, and would halt production at a plant in Eisenach, eastern Germany, for two years before relaunching operations in 2012.

A total of 3,900 jobs were expected to be lost in Germany, it said.

RHJ is aiming to buy 50.1 percent of Opel and is ready to put 275 million euros on the table, the newspaper said.
Fischer rejected allegations he was working for GM, which some analysts say wants to sell Opel for restructuring before buying it back again when GM’s accounts have improved.

“That is nonsense,” Fischer said. RHJ could not sell Opel until it had paid back any eventual public aid, he added.