Minister Says Fiat Has No Plans To Close Italian Plants

MILAN (AP) -- Fiat Group CEO Sergio Marchionne does not foresee closing Fiat plants in Italy as part of any alliance with GM's European operations, Italy's industry minister said in an interview published Monday.

Thousands of workers marched this weekend in Fiat's hometown of Turin to voice concerns that Fiat's move to take over General Motors Corp.'s German subsidiary Opel GmbH would force the closure of one or more Italian plants. Opel workers in Germany are equally concerned. Unions in both countries cite an overlap in the same-size models, alongside the huge decline of auto sales.

"Marchionne has always said and maintained, also in recent days, that closures in Italy are not foreseen," Industry Minister Claudio Scajola told the Milan daily Corriere della Sera. "The strategy would be to aggregate around Turin (both) Chrysler and Opel to create the second-largest group in the world, with the greatest volumes and most evolved products. I would be more concerned if Fiat would have remained still, or if it had been Opel to buy it."

Marchionne has been meeting with officials in Germany to lay out his plans to take on General Motor Corp.'s European operations. He also has reached a deal for Fiat to take a controlling stake in Chrysler LCC, an operation that will be completed once Chrysler emerges from bankruptcy.

Marchionne met Sunday with the governor of the German state of North-Rhine Westphalia, which has an Opel plant.

Germany's mass-circulation Bild daily reported in its Monday edition that Marchionne was seeking the support of Gov. Juergen Ruettgers -- a leading member of Chancellor Angela Merkel's Christian Democrats -- for his plan to make GM Europe, including Opel, part of the new company.

Canadian auto parts maker Magna International has said it is in talks about options for Opel that might include taking a minority stake, and the German government has asked both parties to submit details of their concepts for Opel's future by Wednesday.

Fiat, meanwhile, has confirmed plans to build cars in China with Guangzhou Automobile Group Co. The two companies want to build a car factory in Guanzhou city, Guandong that would make 140,000 cars a year, Fiat spokesman Gualberto Ranieri said.

Fiat previously announced a joint venture with Chery Automobiles of China to produce Alfa Romeo and Fiat brand cars for the Chinese market. The deal, signed in 2007, intended to produce 175,000 Fiat and Alfa Romeo brand autos beginning this year, but Ranieri said permissions were still being sought.

Fiat currently imports cars manufactured in Europe to China, he said.

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