German Leaders To Review Opel Plans

General Motors will ultimately choose Opel's investor, but Berlin will decide whether and how to lend state support to the selected bidder.

BERLIN (AP) -- German Chancellor Angela Merkel, cabinet ministers and regional governors will evaluate bids to acquire or invest in General Motors Corp.'s embattled Opel unit at a meeting Friday, a government spokesman said.

Merkel, the economy and labor ministers, and governors from the four states with Opel factories will attend, said the spokesman, speaking anonymously because it had not been officially announced.

Roland Koch, governor of the state of Hesse that includes Opel's Ruesselsheim headquarters, welcomed the bids to acquire or invest in Opel submitted Wednesday by Italian carmaker Fiat SpA, Canadian auto parts maker Magna International and New York-based buyout firm Ripplewood Holdings LLC.

"I hope that GM, the U.S. administration and the federal and state governments will arrive quickly at a list of priorities on which bidders will get preference for more detailed discussions," Koch said.

German officials have said that GM will ultimately choose Opel's investor, while Berlin will decide whether and how to lend state support to the selected bidder.

Economy Ministry spokesman Stefan Moritz said Wednesday that the government hoped to have a plan in hand by next week, while GM Europe spokesman Chris Preuss said the process could take months.

Detroit-based GM must approve a major restructuring plan by June 1. If unions and bondholders to not agree to the plan, U.S. government aid will end and GM will likely be forced to seek bankruptcy protection.

The German government has said it might put the Opel unit into a trusteeship if GM files for bankruptcy, and this week organized a euro1.5 billion ($2.1 billion) bridge financing package to keep the German unit running.

Fiat Group Chairman Luca Cordero de Montezemolo said Thursday that he believes Fiat's bid for Opel will soon emerge as the leader.

"I believe that Fiat's know-how and products are of great interest and fundamental in moments like this, in terms of ecology, technology and energy savings," Montezemolo said as he arrived at a meeting of Italian industrialists.

Fiat's bid was for Opel as well as the British Vauxhall unit, part of its plans to wrap GM Europe into a global car-making powerhouse along with Chrysler LLC.

Details of the offer have not been released.

Montezemolo would not say whether the plan called for plant closings in Italy or Germany, as feared by unions and state lawmakers.

Fiat CEO Sergio Marchionne said in an interview Thursday with Der Spiegel magazine that he would preserve the German plants.

"We will maintain all four factories in Germany," Marchionne was quoted as saying in an article posted to the magazine's Web site.

Marchionne said the combined company would need to reduce production capacity across Europe by 20 percent, but emphasized that would not mean cutting jobs by 20 percent. Opel employs some 25,000 people in Germany.

Marchionne met earlier this week in Frankfurt with the head of the powerful IG Metall metalworkers unions in an attempt to ease concerns.

State officials, worried that similarities between Fiat and Opel products could lead to factory closings and job cuts, have said they prefer the bid by Magna, an auto parts maker with less product overlap.

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