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OPEL WRAP: GM sees Opel remaining a regional brand

By just-auto.com editorial team | 11 November 2009

GM CEO Fritz Henderson has described Opel as fundamentally a regional brand, dampening hopes that the brand could play a larger and more global role in GM's future strategy.

His remarks will cause concern for some at Opel who fear that GM is now attatching much greater importance to expanding Chevrolet brand sales globally, to the detriment of Opel. They had hoped that Opel could play an enhanced role in GM's global sales strategy.

He also showed little interest in changing the European subsidiary's status from a limited liability company to an incorporated stock company as proof that the carmaker would gain a greater measure of self-determination, Reuters reported.

"We have a strategy in Brazil around Chevrolet ... It's a strong brand; the last thing we usually need is another brand," he told reporters.

"Opel is a regional brand and I don't see that changing. That doesn't mean I'm closed to ideas about how it can be used elsewhere; but the measure of the Opel brand's success will be Europe, because if you don't win here all the discussion of exports will be irrelevant," he said.

Henderson also refuted estimates from the Moody's credit rating agency that the total funding need for Opel restructuring was US$8.5bn versus GM's estimate of a US$4.5bn (EUR3bn).

"I have absolutely no idea where those numbers came from. That's not what we think is required -- we think what's required is about 3 billion euros in total," Henderson said.

Henderson also suggested that an expected downturn in sales in Europe in 2010 won't be a problem because Opel can now build to demand now that excess inventory is gone. He refused to answer questions on where jobs will go.

In other developments, German Chancellor Angela Merkel warned GM that it should expect to bear the brunt of Opel restructuring costs.

"This solution can only work if GM takes over the lion's share of the restructuring costs, which also means that it has to pay back the bridging loan," she told Germany's lower house of Parliament on Tuesday. Other German politicians have made it clear that GM's business plan for Opel has to make sense before any government aid is forthcoming; they have also sounded sceptical that GM can produce a plan that works better than that proposed under the now rejected Magna bid.

Opel's senior labor leader Klaus Franz met with Henderson yesterday in what sounds like an inconclusive meeting. The two agreed that the next step is for Detroit to present a comprehensive, financially solid business plan for its European carmaker until 2014.

Franz said he and Henderson "agreed that General Motors needs big efforts to regain lost trust among staff, the public and politicians".