General Motors could clarify within 24 hours if it will keep rather than sell Opel, a German labour representative said on Tuesday morning.


IG Metall’s Armin Schild, who heads the powerful union in Opel’s home state of Hesse, said the fact that GM’s options for Opel had come to light ahead of an official announcement could mean that they were under serious consideration.


“I see that as a bad sign for the future of Opel,” he told German television station ZDF.


Sources told Reuters on Monday that GM was considering a plan to raise US$4bn to keep Opel rather than selling to Magna International.


Bloomberg News reported earlier that GM advisers were recommending its board consider spurning a German-backed sale of the Opel unit to retain a bigger presence in Europe and Russia. That report, citing an anonymous source, said advisers had suggested GM seek aid from other European governments to retain ownership of Opel as an alternative to surrendering control to the consortium led by Magna International or to RHJ International.


The report added GM’s new board was questioning the decision made by previous directors to give up control of the unit to save it.


Because GM is barred from using funding from the US government to support its international operations, one of the options could include raising money by selling or mortgaging the automaker’s assets in China, a source told Reuters.


GM directors decided at a Friday board meeting not to endorse a sale either to Magna or rival bidder RHJ International, sending the automaker back into negotiations this week with the German government.


The development clearly annoyed German chancellor Angela Merkel who would prefer to face September’s general election with Opel’s fate – it employs tens of thousands of workers in Germany alone – clearly decided.


Talks to sell Opel have now taken months and have become a political hot potato ahead of the elections because of the state support involved and the thousands of job cuts expected to follow any sale, Reuters noted.


Merkel and German states all think Magna would keep more jobs at Opel.


As well as around 25,000 German jobs in four major plants, Opel has two factories here in the UK and other factories in Belgium, Poland and Spain – a Portugese CV plant was closed a couple of years ago and the work moved to Spain.


In other developments, White House deputy press secretary Bill Burton said last night that President Barack Obama’s administration had no plans to get involved in GM’s decision regarding Opel.


“The president’s view is that decisions made on the day-to-day operations of General Motors should be made by the folks at General Motors. He never wanted to get into the auto business and he’s happy for them to make their decisions and get back on their feet,” Burton said at a press briefing in Massachusetts, where Obama is on holiday.


Meanwhile, German union leaders put more pressure on the automaker to make a decision.


The 25,000 German Opel workers had rescinded an agreement to forego holiday bonuses and were now demanding the carmaker pay the balance of around EUR70m (US$100.1m) in cash due next week, several sources told Reuters.


“This is the first warning shot,” one source said.


Opel is currently surviving on a EUR1.5bn bridge loan from the German government.


This is the “mildest” form of protest the union organised workforce in Germany could take, Reuters’ source said, adding that the 25,000 workers could ultimately decide to demand the 4.2% industry wage hike from last year’s collective bargaining agreement that they intended to waive for five years.


“This would then represent an amount due equivalent to the equity contribution of either the two bidders, RHJ or Magna,” the source said, referring to the two competing bids of EUR275m and EUR500m, respectively.


Another person said that while only Ruesselsheim and Bochum works councils agreed to demand the holiday bonuses back, colleagues at the Kaiserslautern and Eisenach plants would follow with similar demands — possibly as early as today.


German finance minister Peer Steinbrueck has called GM’s delay “annoying” and urged a quick decision.


Handelsblatt newspaper quoted Steinbrueck as saying the government would not offer bridge financing to RHJ.


“It’s my impression that the management of GM likes the investor RHJ International because it would be easier for GM to buy Opel back in a few years,” Steinbrueck said.


Here in the UK, the government’s business secretary Peter Mandelson told Bloomberg News General Motors needed to make an “objective” and “commercial” decision on Opel’s future.


“This decision, above all, needs to secure the long-term viability of both Opel and Vauxhall in the UK and should not be distorted by political considerations in any one country,” Mandelson said.


The UK government had asked the GM board to “take full account of the relevant interests in all European countries as this will shape the public funding decisions by all the member states and state aid approval by the European Commission,” he added.


See also: Opel/Vauxhall: could it be any messier?