Germany Expects Opel Plans Soon

Economy minister said he expects Fiat and Canadian auto parts maker Magna International to present by May 20 more detailed plans for ailing GM unit Opel.

BERLIN (AP) -- Germany's economy minister said Thursday that he expects Italy's Fiat and Canadian auto parts maker Magna International to present by May 20 more detailed plans for Opel, the unit of ailing General Motors Corp. that both companies are interested in.

The minister, Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg, also underlined Germany's willingness to consider temporarily transferring Opel to a trustee, a move meant to facilitate negotiations if at least one investor's plan looks promising and parent GM has to file for bankruptcy protection.

GM faces a June 1 deadline to restructure or file for bankruptcy. Berlin is keen to ensure the future of Adam Opel GmbH — which employs some 25,000 people in Germany, nearly half GM Europe's total work force.

"By May 20, both investors, or interested parties, want to present their concept," Guttenberg told reporters after meeting Chancellor Angela Merkel and other senior officials. "We hope at least for a more sustainable concept than what so far has been presented to us only in very rudimentary fashion."

Fiat SpA wants to make GM Europe, including Opel, part of a global powerhouse also including Chrysler LLC. German unions have voiced concern about the job losses that plan might entail.

As a possible alternative to Fiat SpA, Magna has said it is in talks about options for Opel that might include taking a minority stake, but otherwise has given few details.

In recent days, Guttenberg has floated the idea of possibly transferring Opel to a trustee if GM files for bankruptcy protection, with a bank consortium offering bridging aid. The German government has also said it would be prepared to provide loan guarantees to an eventual investor.

German officials agreed Thursday that "such a trustee model certainly could be very much a viable and conceivable solution ... in case we have sustainable concepts" for Opel, Guttenberg said.

The model would, he said, ensure "that negotiations can be continued ... and that no tax money is squandered." Guttenberg stressed that it was not a move toward the government taking a direct stake.

He declined to elaborate on details of how it would work, saying that is a matter for negotiations.

However, Frank-Walter Steinmeier, the foreign minister and vice chancellor, said that "if it is necessary, Opel will get state bridging financing."

"Opel plants, dealers and suppliers must not be sucked into the storm of a bankruptcy in America," Steinmeier said in a statement.

Steinmeier is the center-left challenger to Merkel, a conservative, in Germany's September elections.

Although only Fiat and Magna have expressed interest so far, Guttenberg said "it certainly isn't impossible that other interested parties could come forward."

GM Europe chief Carl-Peter Forster was quoted earlier Thursday as saying that Opel would need a significant line of credit if it were to be temporarily transferred to a trustee.

"The sum would have to be more than euro1 billion ($1.4 billion)," Forster was quoted as telling the daily Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung.

Guttenberg said Germany is in "daily" contact with the U.S. administration and GM.

More in Operations