The topic of Opel, and its relevance, purpose, and future within General Motors, has been one of hot debate and discourse. Some, including yours truly, have called for the unprofitable brand/operating unit to be unloaded, while others have stood steadfast and insisted that GM keep the German brand. No matter your opinion about what The General should do with Opel, one thing is clear: GM had the chance to rid itself of the unit during its bankruptcy proceedings… but didn’t.
GM could have sold Opel to a partnership between the German government, Canadian automotive supplier firm Magna, and Russian bank Sberbank… the move would have put an end to the huge Opel losses, but was widely seen as a temporary shelter for the brand until disappearing shortly thereafter (ala Saab-Spyker). But at the last minute, The General changed its mind — only to lose nearly $2 billion in Europe in 2012. So, who at GM made the pivotal decision? Here’s where things get a little hairy.
In 2011, a Reuters report by Ben Klayman stated that most of GM’s board was for keeping Opel, with the exception of the automaker’s then-new CEO Dan Akerson, and another person whose name was not released:
“Akerson was one of only two GM board directors who voted against keeping Opel in late 2009, believing Europe was a market of national champion automakers — VW in Germany, Fiat in Italy and Renault in France — and pan-European luxury brands like BMW and Daimler AG’s Mercedes, a person familiar with Akerson’s thinking said. Opel is neither and Akerson believed it would be a long, uphill battle to fix it.”
And while Akerson’s view doesn’t really explain how Ford has been seeing some growth (albeit unprofitably) in Europe, or how VW has been propagating its German-centric dominance all over the region. But that’s not the point.
Then a year later, Bill Vlasic of the New York Times wrote that there were two people for keeping Opel — Akerson and GM Vice Chairman/Opel chief Steve Girsky; yup, the two wanted to dump Opel, rather than keep it:
“G.M. nearly sold Opel three years ago before its reconstituted board decided to keep the business because of its integral role in the company’s global product programs. Two of the directors who championed the decision to retain Opel were Mr. Akerson and Stephen J. Girsky, the board’s vice chairman. Now both are admitting that a turnaround in Europe has been far tougher than anticipated.”
Of course, the stories are polar opposites: in 2011, the entire (newly-elected) board wanted to keep Opel but Akerson and one more guy didn’t… in 2012, Akerson and Girsky were all for keeping the unit.
Neither Reuters nor the NYT were contacted by GM to correct their stories, and both authors are highly-respected in the automotive journalism realm. But as TTAC points out, only one thing had changed between both stories: when the board elected to retain Opel, Akerson was a mere member of the board; then he became CEO in late 2010 (ahead of GM’s IPO dog and pony show), and he may have looked better if he’s firmly behind Opel. Or something to that effect.
What do you make of all this bedlam? Let’s mull this over in the comments.