The future of Opel remains in question as GM is still in the process of making up its mind about which bidder will take over the German car maker. One aspect that has been overlooked by the mainstream media is the future of the Opel Ampera – the rebadged version of the Chevy Volt due to go on sale in Europe by 2011.
GM seems to be stuck between a rock and a hard place in deciding the winning bidder for Opel. On one side of the bidding table we have Magna – the Canadian parts manufacturer that has partnered with Russian Federal Bank Sberbank to split its stake in Opel 50/50 with. The General is strongly against this deal since it’s afraid that certain GM/Opel technologies and patents might be used by Russian car makers to undercut GM’s own prices on the same vehicles (think Opel Astra for $5,000). On the other side we have RHJ – a Belgian investment firm that’s in the business of purchasing companies, turning them around, and running them. When it comes to handing over Opel, GM prefers RHJ to Magna. And here is where we get into a dilemma: the German government will be providing financial support to Opel. But it prefers Magna for the job.
So GM, Opel, and the German authorities appear to be in a bit of a stalemate. The truth is that the Opel Ampera/Chevy Volt represent the culmination of GM research, development, and innovation over the last decade. It is my opinion that a major part of GM’s concern with “technology” and “patents” getting into the wrong hands has to do with its Voltec powertrain. So when Opel is sold – and that’s a question of when not if, what will become of the Opel Ampara?
If the Magna deal goes through, it would be in GM’s best interest to protect itself and the work it has done on the Ampera/Volt. Since most of the popular Opel products are extremely similar to those offered by Chevrolet and Buick worldwide, whoever gets Opel would have the potential to build products that compete with those GM currently manufactures itself. So General Motors wouldn’t want Russian car makers taking advantage of the country’s extremely cheap labor to produce Opel vehicles and beat GM at its own game. I believe that GM has already gone to great lengths to make sure that if Magna gets Opel, manufacturing rights to the Ampera would not be part of that deal.
On the other hand, if RHJ were to win the bid for Opel, GM could license rights to manufacture the Ampera to the Belgian investment/management firm.
But Wait, There’s More!
What’s interesting is that both Magna and RHJ have promised to keep Opel production in Germany. In that regard, GM wouldn’t have to fear the potential manufacturing cost advantage attained by the Magna deal.
To play on a common news tagline, one thing is certain: only time will tell… but it’s definitely an interesting time!