3 Bids Submitted For GM's Opel

BERLIN (AP) -- Italian automaker Fiat SpA said Wednesday that it had filed a bid to acquire General Motors Corp.'s ailing unit Adam Opel GmbH, one of three potential investors expected to do so.

Fiat said in a statement that it had made an offer for the German-based Opel unit as well as the British Vauxhall brand.

"Should this transaction be concluded, a new company encompassing the activities of Fiat Group Automobiles (including its stake in Chrysler) and Opel would be created," the statement said.

The details of the offer were not disclosed.

Three bids were expected by a 6 p.m. (1600 GMT) deadline Wednesday, said GM Europe spokesman Chris Preuss. He declined to identify them.

In an earlier interview with the Associated Press, Preuss said that the three bids had been received by German officials. The discrepancy could not immediately be clarified.

Fiat CEO Sergio Marchionne has openly courted Opel in recent days, meeting several times with state and union leaders at the carmaker's four plants in Germany. Just this week, he met with key union officials to try and ward off concerns about potential job cuts.

Fiat wants to wrap GM Europe, including Opel, into a global car-making powerhouse along with Chrysler LLC.

Canadian auto parts maker Magna International has also said it is considering a stake in the German carmaker.

Marchionne has said he would work to keep all four Opel factories in Germany open, but industry analysts have said that similarities between Fiat and Opel models and potential overcapacity would make that difficult.

"Fiat has the disadvantage that potential would be corroded, because brands within Fiat would be competing with each other," said Ferdinand Dudenhoeffer, director of the Center for Automotive Research in Gelsenkirchen.

Hendrik Hering, economy minister for the German state Rhineland-Palatinate, where Opel has an engine plant, told The AP that based on preliminary meetings with Fiat and Magna he preferred Magna's bid.

"In my opinion they've developed the better plan," said Hering, who did not elaborate upon the plan's content.

The association representing Opel dealers in Europe is likewise considering an investment. Last Friday the European Opel Dealer Association endorsed a plan to seek a minority stake of up to 20 percent by investing euro500 million ($680 million).

Germany's Bild newspaper reported that New York-based buyout firm Ripplewood Holdings LLC was also preparing a bid. Call to Ripplewood and Magna seeking comment were not returned.

Interested parties will have to clarify the future they envision for Opel, which officials said Wednesday would receive euro1.5 billion in bridge loans to stay operational while the government weighs the bids.

Michael Scheerer, a finance ministry spokesman in Hesse, where Opel is headquartered, said the state would contribute euro447 million to the financing plan, while the federal government would offer euro750 million.

The three additional states that are home to Opel plants would also contribute, Scheerer said.

Hering said Rhineland-Palatinate is willing to contribute euro100 million in exchange for assurances that the engine factory in Kaiserslautern will remain open.

"If Kaiserslautern is to be closed, then we won't give any money, that's clear," he said.

Opel has said it will need euro1 billion ($1.4 billion) in fresh capital over the next month.

Moritz said GM will have the final say in Opel's fate, while Berlin's role is to weigh whether and how to offer state support to the chosen investor.

Labor Minister Olaf Scholz said that after reviewing the bids, the government would try to draft its plan by the end of the month.

"I think it makes sense that we get some clarity on what will happen in the course of this week and the beginning of next week," Scholz said.

With national elections in September, lawmakers from both parties that share a "grand coalition" government are keen to preserve a company that employs some 25,000 people in Germany, nearly half of General Motors Europe's total work force.

Preuss said that GM Europe has a "pretty detailed process that we're going to have to work through with all the interested parties" before any decision is made among the bidders.

"We're looking at a matter of several weeks, if not months, here to get through the whole process," he said.

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